This amazing German red cabbage is a great side dish to serve with hearty dishes and meats. It’s perfect for special occasion celebrations like Christmas. This sweet and sour braised red cabbage is easy to make and has so much flavor – you’ll love it!
What is braised red cabbage?
Red cabbage is most often used to make slaws (check out this amazing red cabbage and apple slaw!) or is just quickly sauteed. In this recipe, the cabbage is slowly braised for almost 2 hours resulting in soft consistency and excellent, deep, and complex flavor. The longer it’s cooked the better it gets. It tastes really amazing, with a perfect balance of sweet and sour flavors.
This recipe is based on authentic German / Austrian braised red cabbage recipes. It’s called Rotkraut / Rotkohl / Blaukohl depending on the region. What does this mean? “Kohl” or “Kraut” means just cabbage, “blau” means blue, and “rot” means red in the German language.
Red cabbage – can be eaten raw but a long braise makes it taste so much better!
Can you substitute green cabbage for red cabbage? Theoretically yes but the red cabbage has a deeper flavor, this dish wouldn’t be nearly as good with green cabbage.
Apples – red cabbage and apples are a match made in heaven. This is a must with this recipe!
Do you have to peel the apples: I like to peel the apples for this dish but if you like the texture of apple peel you don’t have to peel them.
What type of apples is best – I prefer sweet apples for this recipe – I used Gala variety, but really any variety will do. If you wish you can also use sour apples like Granny Smith but you may need to increase the amount of sugar. Good braised red cabbage must have a good balance of sweet and sour flavors.
Butter can be substituted with goose/duck fat or bacon grease (I prefer it with butter, tastes more light).
Apple cider vinegar – adds a little bit of sweetness and sour tang to the cabbage – you can sub it for red wine vinegar (I prefer the sweet fruit note of the former). It also preserves the beautiful color of the cabbage.
Red wine – wine adds flavor and acidity to the dish so if you don’t cook with wine (don’t worry, after such a long cooking time all alcohol will evaporate) you can swap it for chicken broth and add more vinegar to the dish.
Sugar – it’s really necessary, it balances the sourness from the wine and vinegar. I’m adding light brown sugar for a more complex, caramel flavor.
Cloves and cinnamon – you may think of them as Christmassy spices but they are traditionally added to the braised cabbage as it’s very often served for Christmas. They pair perfectly with all the flavors. I’m cooking the cinnamon stalk with the cabbage but the cloves only with the onion at the beginning – the reason for this is that they give enough flavor but are easier to take out – I don’t like to search for them in a whole pot of braised cabbage.
What you could also add: I perfected this recipe through the years and I really think it’s perfect but you could also add other ingredients to the cabbage that are quite commonly added to German braised red cabbage like:
- red currant jam
- spices like juniper berries or bay leaves – bay leaves don’t bring much to this recipe and juniper berries are not always easy to find so I omit them for this recipe (also searching for the juniper berries in the cabbage to discard them is no fun)
- you can also sprinkle the cabbage with crispy bacon pieces
- sometimes braised cabbage it thickened a bit with flour slurry – I personally don’t like that
- apple juice – I prefer orange juice much more.
To make this vegan red cabbage – use vegetable oil instead of butter.
How to make it step by step:
How to shred cabbage:
For this recipe, you need to cut the cabbage into thin strips. The more thin the strips are the better. Make sure to take a large chopping board and use gloves when handling the cabbage as it stains everything very easily!
How to cut the cabbage:
- Remove the outer wilted leaves.
- Cut the cabbage in half and cut out the core.
- Shred or cut it into thin slices.
What to use to cut the cabbage:
- You can do than by just chopping the cabbage with a knife. Red cabbage is pretty hard to cut so make sure to use a really sharp knife – this way it will be much easier to cut really thin slices.
- Some vegetable peelers are also doing a great job of shredding the cabbage. You can shred it with the peeler as much as it gets and then finish with a knife.
- A quick way to cut the cabbage is to slice it on a mandoline.
You will need a small head of cabbage for this recipe (you’ll need 2 pounds/900g of cabbage), but if you’ve bought a larger head of cabbage, you can use the rest to make one of my favorite slaw recipes ever – this red cabbage and apple slaw with walnuts and pomegranate seeds.
Next, cook the onion and cloves with butter. Discard the cloves.
Add the shredded cabbage and grated apple, cook for 5 more minutes.
Add all the other ingredients and simmer, covered, for about 1.5-2 hours. Stir the cabbage from time to time. Make sure there’s always a small amount of liquid left at the bottom to prevent the cabbage from burning. It will also be more juicy. The cooking time will depend on how thick you’ve cut your cabbage. I like my cabbage very tender but it should still have a little bite to it.
In the end, season the cabbage with salt and pepper, and vinegar or sugar if the cabbage is too sweet or too sour.
You can eat this cabbage dish warm or cold but I prefer it much more warm.
This side dish can be easily made ahead – braised red cabbage reheats beautifully! It actually tastes better the next day.
How long does it keep? It will keep for up to 5 days in the fridge. For the best flavor store it no longer than 3 days.
Freezing: it is surely possible and it terms of taste the cabbage will still taste great, but the consistency is unfortunately very soft and mushy.
What to serve it with:
- roast duck
- roast goose
- roast chicken (whole chicken or chicken legs or even chicken breast recipes like this cranberry balsamic chicken or breaded chicken cutlets)
- roasted turkey legs
- pork dishes: pork chops, pork, roast, pork tenderloin
- German beef dishes like Rouladen or roast beef (Sauerbraten)
- vegetarian dishes: potato dumplings with mushroom sauce (you can use any kinds of mushrooms for this sauce)
Did you make this recipe? RATE THE RECIPE or tell me in the COMMENTS how you liked it! You can also add a photo of your dish. It would make me very happy and will help other readers. Thank you!!
German Red Cabbage
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- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 small onion
- 6 cloves
- 2 pounds (900g) red cabbage
- 2 large apples or 3 small apples
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1 stick cinnamon
- salt and pepper to taste
- Remove the wilted outer layers of cabbage, cut out the core, and cut the cabbage into very thin strips. Peel and core the apples, then grate on the big holes of a box grater, chop the onion.
- Melt the butter in a large pot, add the onion and cloves, cook over medium-low heat for a couple of minutes, or until the onion is soft. Discard the cloves.
- Increase the heat to high and add the shredded cabbage and grated apples. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, making sure that the cabbage is not sticking to the pot.
- Add the vinegar, wine, orange juice, sugar, and cinnamon stick. Stir everything together, cover with a lid, and simmer over low heat for about 1.5-2 hours (the longer the better). The cabbage should be very tender but still have a little bite to it. Stir the cabbage from time to time, add some boiling water to the cabbage if it gets too dry – I added about 3/4 cup during this time. The cooking time may vary depending on how thick you've chopped your cabbage.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Leftovers: This side dish can be easily made ahead – braised red cabbage reheat beautifully! It actually tastes better the next day. How long does it keep? It will keep for up to 5 days in the fridge, for the best flavor store it no longer than 3 days.
- Freezing: it is surely possible and it terms of taste the cabbage tastes great, the consistency is unfortunately very soft and mushy.
- Recipe substitutions (although I think his recipe is perfect as is!)
- sub red wine vinegar for apple cider vinegar
- use bacon grease/goose fat/duck fat instead of butter, use vegetable oil to make it vegan
- use apple juice instead of orange juice
- use any kind of apples, I prefer sweet variety, if using sour apples you may need to add more sugar to the dish
- instead of wine – use broth + more vinegar
- Calories = 1 serving (1/10 of the recipe). This is only an estimate!