- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Red cabbage doesn’t come to mind when you think of sunny Florida or California. Yet I recently sampled two memorable dishes featuring this cold-weather vegetable, one in Fort Lauderdale, the other in Beverly Hills.

Unlike stereotypical red cabbage recipes from northern regions, they were not stodgy and greasy, but light and lively, and they fit beautifully into the fresh menu styles in which I sampled them.

My sister-in-law, Monica, is fond of red cabbage but rarely cooks it because of concerns that the aroma might bother my brother-in-law. As we strolled through her neighborhood market in Fort Lauderdale and put a red cabbage in our cart, her 3-year-old said, “That’s for Mommy, not for me.” He was proud that he, like his daddy, doesn’t eat red cabbage.

When Daddy was out, Monica and I decided to cook some cabbage for lunch. Although red cabbage is readily available, nutrient-rich and inexpensive, it frequently is overlooked. Often supermarket shoppers don’t realize how tasty it can be and how easy it is to prepare. Then there’s that aroma issue.

There’s no need to worry that cooking cabbage will fill your home with an unpleasant odor. It produces a strong scent only during prolonged boiling in water. Boiling is a first step in some recipes, but it is generally reserved for green rather than red cabbage. If the cabbage is cooked over low heat in a covered pot, it will not develop an aggressive flavor or aroma.



I like to braise red cabbage briefly instead of following old-fashioned formulas that call for hours of simmering. It becomes tender but not flabby and retains a slightly crisp texture. Gently stewed cabbage loses its raw taste and acquires a delicate sweetness.

I first learned to cook red cabbage at a Parisian cooking school. The chefs often sauteed it and turned it into warm salads sprinkled with a pungent cheese such as Roquefort. Red cabbage is even more popular in Northern, Central and Eastern Europe than in France. Monica loves it the way her German-born mom prepares it, with a robust sweet-and-sour flavor.

To make an easy updated version, I sauteed an onion in a little oil so the lightly caramelized onion would contribute its natural sweetness to the cabbage. After adding the cabbage, I poured in just enough vegetable broth to keep the cabbage moist, not soupy.

Once the cabbage was tender-crisp, I stirred in equal amounts of brown sugar and vinegar. The vinegar plays two roles. It acts as a foil for the sugar and keeps the color of the cabbage bright. Cooking red cabbage without an acid ingredient can turn it a weird, unappetizing blue. It also needs a judicious amount of salt to balance the tastes of the sugar and vinegar.

Soon after my Florida visit, I smiled when I encountered this homey dish in luxurious surroundings. At a dinner in Beverly Hills, talented chefs of several Loews Hotels competed in creating dishes with ingredients from artichokes to caviar to scallops. It was a wonderful banquet, but my favorite dish of the evening was made with humble components.

For his short-rib entree, chef Eric Rillos of Loews Beverly Hills Hotel topped a boneless nugget of beef with a spoonful of finely shredded sweet-and-sour red cabbage. For me, the cabbage made the dish. I savored that precious spoonful slowly and gladly would have finished a bowlful of the cabbage on its own.

Sweet-and-sour red cabbage

1/2 large head red cabbage

2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil

1 onion, chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper

½ cup vegetable broth or water, or more if needed

3 to 4 tablespoons vinegar of choice

3 to 4 tablespoons brown sugar

Quarter cabbage, then slice each piece in thin shreds; discard cores.

Heat oil in a large pan or Dutch oven, add onion and saute over medium heat for 5 minutes or until light golden. Add cabbage, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and mix well. Add ½ cup broth or water and bring to a boil, stirring.

Cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes or until cabbage is crisp-tender, adding more broth by tablespoons if pan becomes dry. Add 3 tablespoons vinegar and 3 tablespoons brown sugar. Cook uncovered over medium heat, stirring often, for 2 minutes to evaporate excess liquid so the cabbage is moist but not soupy. Taste and add more salt, pepper, vinegar or sugar if needed.

Makes 3 to 4 servings.

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