I’d love to tell you that the following seasonal, braised red cabbage recipe will be so good for you it’ll light your internal fire all winter. Red cabbage is packed full of antioxidants and due to its purple colouring and organic growing conditions, it will make you look and feel younger. But telling you that would be wrong of me.
I was recently reminded by a plant breeder how inaccurate those kind of sweeping statements can be. Pat Fitzgerald explained during a horticultural tour of his nurseries, that unless the variety of fruit or vegetable in question has been tested in a laboratory, the ‘goodness’ contained within it can vary enormously.
Among other vegetables, Pat has been trialing and growing sweet potatoes in his nursery in Kilkenny for several years. Before he chooses which plants to breed for the discerning European market, he not only looks at the colour, texture and taste, he also sends tissue samples off to the laboratory for detailed chemical analysis of the nutrient content. The results help Pat make the final decision about which plants to choose for his breeding programmes. Apart from variety, several other factors will influence how nutritious a vegetable will be before it hits our stomachs, including its growing conditions and how we cook or prepare it.
So while I might tell you that a portion of red cabbage has 95% of your daily vitamin C allowance, as well as a good dose of fibre and minerals, that statement can only be used as a general guideline as the detail can vary widely.
However, there’s a lot more to vegetables than their nutritional content. We can often get hung up about how good food is or isn’t for us, but what’s often overlooked is how food makes us feel.
Transformative Autumn Sunshine
The first batch of braised red cabbage I made earlier in the week contained crab apples as they were all I had to hand. My fingers were sore from teasing the seeds out and my eyes streaming from chopping the onions and I wondered if the time spent standing at the counter was worth it.
Nevertheless, as I continued and began to layer all the ingredients into the cooking pot, the low sun came out from behind a cloud and its rays streamed through the window, catching the vegetables in their dark pot, highlighting the depth of autumn colour contained within them in a way that wouldn’t have been out-of-place in an art gallery.
The moment stopped me in my tracks. It made me feel thankful for the experience and the bounty before me.
Organically grown, these weren’t the most attractive looking red cabbages that were plucked from the soil to make way for the onions. In an industrial, commercial farm they’d have been ploughed straight back in. Full of holes from a failed slug control experiment, I had to strip their hard, outer leaves before revealing firm hearts that transformed into slices of marbled, glossy seductiveness. The transformation made me thankful of their growth and existence!
Braising slowly for hours in the slow cooker, spicy aromas filled the kitchen, evoking thoughts and memories of crisp mornings and warm log fires, laughter and sharing food over candlelit dinners. A definite smell of Christmas hung in the air on the sunny October afternoon as the nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves blended with the vinegar and apples.
Home grown food
Yes, the preparation was worth the effort. This alluring side vegetable reminded me that home-grown food is more than just something to keep us alive. It’s a thought and a feeling, a memory and a moment. It doesn’t deserve to be quickly boiled or fried without a second thought, before being stuffed and into our mouths as we rush from one job to another. Cooking and preparing food we’ve grown ourselves or sourced from somewhere close by can awaken an indescribable pleasure within us, one that can’t be measured in a lab.
If you’d like to have a go at reproducing the fleeting feeling for yourself and perhaps think about the emotions that eating and preparing a seasonal dish can unravel in your own psyche, here’s the recipe:
Braised Red Cabbage Recipe
Serves 4 very generous portions
900g red cabbage, outer leaves removed, washed and sliced
450g red onions, sliced
450g peeled, cored and sliced apples (any variation)
45ml red wine vinegar
3 tblsp soft brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
Knob of butter
Freshly ground salt and pepper
Have all the ingredients ready and simply arrange layers of the cabbage, onions, spices and apple in a large casserole dish or slow cooker, with the garlic, spices, salt and pepper sprinkled between each layer.
Pour the vinegar over the top, add the knob of butter, put on the lid and cook slowly.
In the oven this dish will take about 2½ to 3 hours at 150ºC/gas 2/300ºF, or in a slow cooker, for about four hours on low setting, stirring once or twice during the cooking time.
This dish can be cooked ahead and stored in the refrigerator. I’m currently seeing how well it freezes given there’s a large quantity.
Are you tempted to give it a go?