Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Red Cabbage: Definitely not Guggy

good raw or cooked
Many holiday foods have a texture that I call "guggy," meaning they are slightly sticky and dense. Mashed potatoes are guggy, as are boiled noodles, winter squash, and stuffing. After eating guggy foods at Thanksgiving and Christmas, I develop cravings for vegetables with more texture. Cabbage is one of those veggies. It is not guggy. Served raw in coleslaw, cabbage is crisp and sharply flavored. Served cooked, it can still maintain much of that crispness, depending on how you cook it. Even when not crisp, though, it retains a texture that you can feel with your teeth.

I'm a real fan of red cabbage. When I was younger, I delighted in showing how to use it to make a homemade litmus paper. Now I can tout its nutritional benefits. Like green cabbage, the red is high in Vitamins A, C, and K. However, it has twice the iron of green cabbage, as well as lots of other bioactive compounds, including anthocyanins.

Anthocyanins give red cabbages (and blueberries, I might add) their  lovely color. Scientists are studying anthocyanins eagerly, because researchers now believe that they may protect against a host of ailments, ranging from high blood pressure to cancer.  I liked the look and taste of red cabbage even before I heard that it might have medicinal qualities, so the nutritional benefits are just a happy bonus.

In cold weather, I usually braise red cabbage slowly, which takes time, but creates an incredibly rich, tasty side dish that pairs well with strongly flavored meats and almost any sausage. It can be served hot, lukewarm, or even cold. I don't really use a recipe but I'll give an approximate one:

2 strips bacon
1/2 large red onion
1 small or 1/2 large head of red cabbage, shredded
tart apple, chopped.
3-4 TBSP vinegar
2-3 TBSP brown sugar
Optional: raisins, caraway seeds

Saute the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon and keep the drippings. (Use the bacon in a sandwich or something else.) Now saute the onion and cabbage in the bacon fat for about 5-10 minutes, until well coated with drippings and just starting to soften. Add the apple, and then add the vinegar and sugar to taste. Cover and cook over very low heat for about 45 minutes to an hour. If it starts to dry out, add a bit more liquid: apple cider is great if you have it; otherwise, use water or a mild vinegar. Finally, add salt and pepper. If I have them, I sometimes add a few TBSP golden raisins about halfway through cooking. Sometimes I throw in a pinch of caraway seed as well.

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