Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rotkohl (Sweet & Sour Red Cabbage)

Anyone who has had a German meal has mostly likely had rotkohl, that sweet and sour stewed red cabbage, as an accompaniment. It might be habit, or it might just be my personal bias, but I don't think that any German meal is complete without some sort of red cabbage side dish, and this one is my favorite.

Red cabbage is often shunted to the back of the class, relegated as a sometime slaw ingredient or an occasional burst of color and crunch of texture in a green salad, or tossed into borscht and then largely forgotten. Sometimes people will stew it beyond recognition into a purple mush.

It is the red-headed stepchild of the vegetable crisper, and there is no need for that.

Marry the cabbage with the right combination of flavors, certain spices and, mostly importantly, avoid cooking it down to a flatulence-inducing mess of stewed leaves, and you've got a wonderfully fragrant and comforting dish.

The apple, the cloves and juniper, the vinegar and sugar all combine to create a satisfying dish that lures you in. The first bite grabs you with tartness, but then mellows out with a hint of sweetness and then rounds off with the notes of clove and juniper. Each mouthful always leaves me wanting another, wondering if that same progression of flavors would appear with the next forkful.

It always does.


  • 1/2 head small red cabbage, shredded
  • 1/2 Granny Smith, peeled and julienned
  • 1/2 onion, julienned
  • 1-1/2 T butter
  • 1 t sea salt
  • 4 black peppercorns
  • 2 cloves
  • 3 juniper berries
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 T sugar
  1. Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat.
  2. Add the cabbage, onion and apple and mix so that everything is nicely coated with the butter.
  3. Add the water, vinegar, sugar and spices and bring to a boil.
  4. Once it boils, cover and reduce the heat to low and keep simmering for 1-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

  • I saw some recipes that called for a slurry of cornstarch and water to be added once the dish had finished cooking, but I didn't see the need for it. I don't mind if my cabbage is a little bit juicy. The spaetzle can always soak it up. :)

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