The 1st of December has arrived! Hungry Hubby and I had our first day back in work after our two week holiday (that is a long time to be away from the Apple Chapel and its comforting, familiar, homely kitchen). Which meant leftover lasagne for dinner with a simple green salad gobbled up greedily and hurriedly followed by the ritualistic playing of Christmas songs as we decorate our home for yet another festive season. The aroma of yesterday’s Christmas cake and gingerbread making marathon lingers still yet to augment it further, we lit an apple and spice scented candle and put christmas tree essential oil in our room diffuser as we worked, singing Santa Baby, All I Want for Christmas and Fairytale in New York loudly and out of tune. Just like every year for the last 14 Christmases we have spent together. If it wasn’t a school night, a wee tot of advocaat and lime would have been my tipple of choice but sensibility prevailed and steaming hot cups of tea in our Christmas mugs helped warm us from the inside. The Apple Chapel is now aglow with a myriad of fairy lights and a selection of tinsel which would have made Joseph snort derisively at his Technicolour Dreamcoat 😉 Which brings me on nicely to today’s Christmas recipe – a make ahead, vegetable side dish of purple jewel coloured red cabbage, in fact it is Orange & Spice and All Things Nice.
I was converted to the moreish deliciousness of red cabbage at Christmas time quite a few years ago now. Another delight I’d missed out on up until then, it really is so tasty, it is hard to eat only one serving. Apart from serving alongside your turkey and all the other trimmings, I am actually quite partial to braised red cabbage with big fat bangers and mash. A very sturdy member of the brassica family, red cabbage is divine either finely shredded into a coleslaw or similar raw salad where it’s crunch and bitterness counter sweeter, softer leaves or you need to cook, cook, cook it until it yields and slumps into a tender tangle of pickled perfection. The first year I made my own, I used a very large red cabbage that came in an organic fruit and veg box I’d treated us to and we were eating it for weeks and weeks to come. Luckily it survives a lot of cooking and then freezing in portions extremely well; actually it benefits from being made ahead. Not a true pickle or relish as it stands, the use of vinegar and in this case orange juice helps with the tenderisation of these robust leaves and gives you an lip smacking, vinegary bite against the sweetness of a little sugar and a base of gently caramelised red onions and some apple. Cinnamon, allspice and star anise warm up the dish and remind you the Yuletide is upon us once more.
Although I suspect I will continue to tweak it a little as I have done each year up until now, I feel this recipe is pretty close to my idea of the perfect braised red cabbage. I’ve adapted it to cook in the slow cooker and it works brilliantly, if I do say so myself. It requires a bit more prep and a bit more stove side stirring than most of slow cooker recipes but if you make this of a weekend, the extra twenty minutes or so of getting this dish ready for the crock pot is no real hardship. Even a small head of this cabbage shreds into a far larger volume as the leaves are very tightly compacted in the whole vegetable so once you’ve prepared the base to cook it in, it takes a little patience to get it all in your pot and turn it in the appley, oniony, vinegary mush. I would suggest you shred your cabbage then put it all in your slow cooker before you start cooking to make sure it fits! My 900g one only just fit in my cooker although having to make a coleslaw from any leftover shreds wouldn’t have been so awful a thing…
- 900g red cabbage, shredded (discard the tough core)
- 1 large Bramley apple, roughly chopped
- 2 small red onions, finely diced
- 20g butter
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
- 1 star anise
- 1 large quill of cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 90ml cider vinegar
- Zest of one orange* and enough juice to make the vinegar up to 150ml
- If your slow cooker pot is hob safe, preheat to medium – if not, preheat a large saucepan to medium. Melt the butter and the oil until they start to foam.
- Add in the onions and turn in the oil until slicked with it and starting to caramelise around the edges – add the sugar and spices, followed by the apples.
- Cook until the apples start to turn to mush then add the zest, juice and vinegar and stir well to combine. Don’t allow it to evaporate off – this is just the right amount of liquid to cook the cabbage without leaving any watery liquid at the bottom of the finished dish. Remember, you never need as much liquid when you cook in the slow cooker as you do on the hob or in the oven.
- A handful at a time, turn your red cabbage in the spiced onion and apple base. Go slowly so you don’t end up with cabbage all over the hob top in your impatience (never happened to me, honest…) then quickly clamp on the lid when all the cabbage is slicked and pop either onto your slow cooker base or transfer it from the saucepan into here.
- Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 – use your judgement though as slow cooker temperature settings can vary and as long as the cabbage has turned more purple than ruby red and has slumped and softened, you are good to go. It won’t wilt and disappear like flimsy spinach will and it can stand a long, slow cook better than most vegetables.
- If not serving straight away, leave to cool until at room temperature then freeze in an airtight tupperware box until the big day. Defrost overnight in the fridge before reheating. You can reheat in your slow cooker if you want to free up a space on the hob – this should take an hour or 2, again depending on the temp of your cooker.
- *= if you like it sweeter, use clementine zest and juice instead of orange.