Winter magic from a tough customer

Colourful red cabbage makes a welcome and nutritious addition to your mid-year menus.
Colourful red cabbage makes a welcome and nutritious addition to your mid-year menus.

You love it or hate it. If the latter, I bet you've only had it boiled - until the Moon sets over the cow shed - a crime that should be relegated to the Cooks Hall of Shame.

There's nothing shy about red cabbage. Like its cousin, the green drumhead, it has been vilified for its strong flavour. But that's what winter cooking is all about. With the right treatment, this tough customer will win hearts and stomachs.

The simplest way to use it in winter is to jazz up a coleslaw. Sliced finely (core and stalks removed), it adds flavour and colour to your usual cabbage-carrot mix, along with chopped apple, a little grated orange zest, sliced celery and walnuts.

Toss immediately in a sharpish mayo, or ditch the nuts and go Asian with 1 Tbsp each of fresh lime juice, sweet chilli sauce, fish sauce and coconut milk.

Either way, this crunchy salad goes well with grilled chicken. Red cabbage also beefs up your usual stir-fry. Throw finely sliced leaves into the wok with the other vegetables and carry on.

Sauteeing takes longer, but the resulting sweet-sour flavour makes this a punchy vegetable that really earns its stripes.

Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large pan over a medium-high heat. Add 1 medium onion, finely chopped, and stir until translucent. Add half a sliced red cabbage, core and stalks removed, and stir to combine. Sautee for 5 minutes, or until it wilts. Add 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar to the cabbage. Sprinkle 1 Tbsp brown sugar over the cabbage and stir. Season mixture with 1 tsp mustard seeds, and salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook for a further 10-12 minutes before serving.

Today's recipe for braising red cabbage is tangy and fruity with a gentle spice. (You could replace the cinnamon stick with a little ground cinnamon.) In my book the orange zest is the "magical" ingredient. Braised cabbage is terrific with venison, duck, and roast or grilled meats.


 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
 50g butter
 1 red onion, finely chopped
 1 cinnamon stick
 1/4 tsp ground cloves
 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
 1 red cabbage, core removed, evenly chopped
 2 granny smith apples, cored, peeled and chopped
 grated zest of 1 orange
 2 Tbsp brown sugar
 150ml balsamic vinegar
 2 Tbsp red currant or cranberry jelly
 salt and ground black pepper
 knob butter for serving

1. Heat oil and butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat and stir to combine.

2. Add onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened.

3. Stir in spices and cook for 1-2 minutes.

4. Tip in cabbage and cook until shiny and well coated, about 3 minutes.

5. Add apples, orange zest, sugar and vinegar, reduce heat to low, and stir thoroughly.

6. Cover and cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure mixture doesn't stick.

7. Stir in red currant jelly, season with salt and pepper, and cook for another 25 minutes. Stir through a knob of butter just before serving.

Cook's tip: On cooking, red cabbage usually turns blue. Adding vinegar or an acidic fruit to the pot helps to keep it red.

The Southland Times