Red cabbage is one of those vegetables I had no idea what to do with, and didn’t want anything to do with, until I dove headfirst into paleo with my first whole30 in 2013 with my crossfit gym. My grandmother used to make this bacon-braised red cabbage every year for Thanksgiving, but honestly I never touched the stuff because it just looked like a gross-tasting big pile of mush.
Boy, was I wrong. Well, not about the mush part. It totally still looks like mush after you make it. But MAN is it delicious. To be honest though, you could probably put bacon and apples on anything and they would be mouth-wateringly amazing.
Except maybe the Cranberry Chia Pudding I made last week. Let’s leave the bacon out of that.
But back to the cabbage. It must be our German roots coming out, because whatever my Grandmother does to this red cabbage…it’s magic. I’ve had her show me how to make it for the last three Thanksgivings and I think I’ve finally got it almost as good as she does. Even if we follow the same recipe. She’s just got Grandma’s magic touch. But maybe she’s just sneaking some extra bacon in there. It’s okay grandma, I won’t tell.
There are a couple tricks to cooking red cabbage so it doesn’t end up a mushy mess. First, you NEED to add some vinegar while cooking, or you will totally lose that vibrant purple color. I mean, if you really wanted to keep the color, I guess you could google some raw red cabbage salad. But my stomach has enough problems without trying to digest raw cabbage, so I’ll leave you to that. #thestruggleisreal
Next. After the cabbage has wilted and the top is off, try to keep from stirring it too often. This is a tip I picked up from Grandma: you want there to be some tiny burned (caramelized) parts on the bottom the cabbage gets from sticking to the bottom of the pan. They are SO. damn. good. Trust me on this one. And if you don’t trust me (which I really hope you do), maybe you can trust Grandma on that one. Plus, this means you can run off and do other things while the cabbage is cooking. No need to babysit the pot like when you’re making risotto. Which I tried to do for the first time the other day. Let me tell you, never try to make risotto as your post-workout food. And never double the batch, thinking it won’t take you that much more time. You’ll be standing over the stove, continually stirring, and STARVING because your damn risotto hasn’t absorbed all the water yet and you still have 5 more cups of water to stir in, one by one. KILLER.
Staying true to those German roots, I think cabbage tastes best with flavor combinations like mustard, garlic and onion, or cider vinegar, apples and bacon. I even added in some super delicious bonus ingredients in here like apple cider and craisins to kick it up a notch. If you want more ideas for what to do with red cabbage, check out Nom Nom Paleo’s 10 great recipes that spotlight cabbage!
To be honest though…I pretty much only make this recipe whenever I get red cabbage. Because it’s just THAT good. Like a good marinara sauce, it gets better as it sits, so leftovers are freaking AMAZING. For Thanksgiving, we usually make it a day in advance and then heat it up again.
P.s. Yes, I’m fully aware that this makes a lot. Because I want you to have LEFTOVERS, silly. Did I mention leftovers?? Pair the cabbage with some sausage, pop an egg on top of there with some roasted potatoes…ohmygod. I can’t even. Why don’t I have leftovers of this in my fridge right now?!
- 4 slices thick-cut bacon, sliced into ½-inch pieces
- ½ large onion, sliced
- 1 small head red cabbage (or ½ medium head)
- ¼ cup homemade chicken stock / apple cider
- 4 Tbsp apple cider vinegar*
- 2 small apples, diced (gala or honeycrisp)
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped
- ¼ cup chopped dates or dried cranberries
- 2 tsp sea salt + additional, to taste
- optional: 1-2 Tbsp maple syrup
- Heat a large stockpot over medium-high heat, and add the bacon. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often, so the bacon doesn’t burn. Cook until it’s crispy, then remove to a paper towel lined plate.
- Add the onions to the remaining bacon fat in the pot with a small pinch of salt. Sauté about 6-8 minutes, until the onions are translucent.
- Add in the cabbage and chicken stock (or apple cider) and put the lid on the pot. Stir about every 5 minutes, and cook until the cabbage begins to wilt. This should take about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the vinegar, apples, sea salt, dried cranberries, and rosemary. Continue to cook with the lid on for about 5 more minutes for the apples to soften, then remove the lid.
- Turn the heat down to medium-low, and continue to cook until the cabbage and apple mixture is completely soft and the liquid had evaporated, about 30 minutes. Stir only once about every 10-15 minutes. You can either serve it now, or continue to cook until the rest of your food is ready, up to an extra 45 minutes.
- When ready to serve, stir in the bacon bits and optional maple syrup. Season to taste with additional sea salt.
*For another flavor, you can substitute red wine vinegar for the apple cider vinegar.
**For whole30, omit the maple syrup.
Do you like red cabbage? What’s your favorite way to prepare it?