The day before we left for a snowy silver wedding anniversary getaway to Quebec City, I made clean-out-the-fridge frittata for brunch and leave-the-larder-empty pasta for dinner. The leftover potato gratin and sautéed mushrooms and onions from Christmas dinner elevated the eggs for the midday meal while the bones from that same holiday’s standing rib roast, long simmered with some sliced onion, garlic and canned tomatoes, fortified us later in the day.

I’d also planned to make a coleslaw with the half a head of red cabbage remaining from our fish taco night for one or both of these meals, but thought better of it knowing that we’d return late in the day from Quebec, and having something fresh and crispy in the fridge would be a good antidote to the poutine and + Champagne we intended to consume on our holiday. Placed cut-side down in the crisper, purple-hued brassica was the only fresh vegetable I trusted to be in the same, perfectly delicious condition upon our return.

Red cabbage is one of those underrated workhorses in a green-eating repertoire. It’s an inexpensive storage crop that grows well locally. Because it is culinarily flexible, you can prepare it in a variety of ways, multiple nights in a row and not get bored by its alterable presence on your plate. Red cabbage is comparable in crispness and its compactly wrapped leaves to hard, green cabbage (sometimes called Dutch), while Napa and Savoy cabbage are significantly softer.

At a time of year when many other veggies have gone by, make red cabbage your friend. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Raw red cabbage is the best cabbage for vinegar-based slaws because its texture and spicy flavor hold up to the acid, an element that easily breaks down weaker leafy vegetables. Its crispy quality also makes red cabbage a great conduit for ferrying salad dressing in the bottom of a jarred salad safely to the office. Simply mix the dressing in the bottom of the jar with the red cabbage and pile the other elements that could wilt on top of it.

Red cabbage roasts beautifully because its picante edge melts into a mild sweetness while the high, dry heat chars its edges for a bitter counterpoint. Slice cored quarters into 1-inch strips; toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper; spread them out on a baking sheet and roast them at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes until the strips are pliable and their edges well-browned.

Braised cabbage may not be the most glamorous side dish in your repertoire, but it’s sweet-and-sour personality certainly helps bring everything else on your plate to life on a cold winter’s night. Braised red cabbage with apples gives a punch of purple to otherwise bland-looking baked jacket potatoes, pounded pork schnitzel or steamed sausages. It can complement and cut the fattiness of decadent confit duck legs. And it does wonders for balancing the gluttony of a whole bowl of buttered mustard spaetzle.

The one culinary technique I shy away from with red cabbage is attempting to wilt it with a quick blast of heat like giving it a quick sauté or dropping it into hot broth right before serving it as soup. The quick sauté doesn’t soften red cabbage enough for it to absorb the cooking fat so the dish will appear greasy. And even the hottest of broths will not tame its crunch enough for it to meld well into the soup.

The purple color that leaches from the shredded red cabbage makes any dish more fun, in my eyes. But if you’d like less of this blue bleeding into your slaws and braises, simply soak shredded red cabbage in cold water for 15-20 minutes before starting any recipe.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester, and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at [email protected]

Making spaetzle is easier than you think and can be done in an ordinary colander. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Braised Red Cabbage with Mustard Spaetzle
Spaetzle is a dumplinglike noodle from Germany and Eastern Europe, made just a little bit differently in its various homes. This is my recipe for mustard spaetzle and my favorite braised red cabbage recipe from Fine Cooking magazine adapted to my taste over time. Both recipes can be made ahead and be warmed up to serve.
Serves 4-6


3 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch white pepper
Pinch nutmeg
2 cups (about 10 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup chopped parsley


3 tablespoons olive oil

1/3 cup capers, rinsed and patted dry, optional
9 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
1 tablespoons caraway or fennel seeds
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

To make the spaetzle, whisk the eggs, milk, mustard, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a medium-sized bowl. Slowly stir the flour into the wet ingredients until the batter is smooth. The consistency should be halfway between that of pancake batter and pasta dough. Let the batter rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes but up to an hour.

While the batter is resting, set a pot of salted water to boil. The pot you choose should be a bit smaller than your colander so that you can set the colander over the pan without it touching the water

Once the batter has rested and the water boiled, set your colander over the pan and pour the batter into the colander. Using a rubber spatula, push the batter through the holes and into the water. This process will take a little elbow grease. The spaetzle will first sink to the bottom of the pan and then rise to the top. Once they have risen to the top, let the dumplings cook for another 2 minutes and then remove them with a skimmer, shock them in cold water and drain them well. Toss with melted butter and parsley. Keep warm.

To make the braised cabbage, heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large straight-sided skillet or large pot. Add the capers and fry, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate.

Add the cabbage, shallots, and caraway or fennel seeds to the skillet, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the seeds are aromatic, about 2 minutes. Add the broth, 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and cook, tossing occasionally, until the broth is absorbed and the cabbage is tender, about 15 minutes. Add half of the fried capers, if using. Transfer to a serving bowl or platter. Drizzle the pomegranate molasses over the cabbage, top with the remaining capers, if using, and serve with warm, buttered mustard spaetzle.

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