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Rotkohl (German Red Cabbage)

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So, I mentioned I was going to try to use up the rest of the red cabbage from my Asian Fusion Salad earlier this week. I did it!

Both Michael and I have German heritage. Mine’s paired with Danish and British, and Michael’s is paired with Swiss. While my family sure thinks it’s neat we have German heritage, we haven’t exactly kept it alive (we sort of keep the Danish side alive…). My dad speaks English and Africanse, my brother takes French, my sister knows American Sign Language, and the rest of us took Spanish. To be fair, my mom can say “where is Peter?” in German. Woot!

Michael’s family, on the other hand, has a rich German heritage and his family has very much kept it alive and well. His father and sister served church missions there and speak German fluently, German words find their way into normal conversations, and almost everyone in the family took German in school at one time or another. We have all sorts of German and Swiss recipes from his side of the family, and there were a few I’d never tried.

Rotkohl was one of them. I used the family recipe, and, while it was cooking, did a little more research on the subject.

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As anyone who’s ever eaten some of the more popular German food knows, sauerkraut and other pickled/vinegary foods are quite common. For those who find sauerkraut a little too strong or sour (Heh… accidentally typed ‘sauer’), rotkohl is a sweeter, less pungent alternative.

Basically a sweet-and-sour braised red cabbage, rotkohl (pronounced “rote-coal”) can be made one of two ways. The first is a more vinegary, sauerkraut-ish version, and the second sweetens things and tones down the vinegar with the addition of browned butter. Michael’s family recipe uses browned butter, but I snuck a taste before adding it in, and found I liked it both ways.

We made a whole German meal out of the dish by pairing it with (what else?) grilled sausages and some German potato salad, complete with a warm, vinegary, bacon-infused dressing (recipe soon).

Note on the recipe: the flavor improves with time, so whether or not you add the browned butter, feel free to make it ahead of time and let it rest in the refrigerator. Just bring it to room temperature or warm it up a touch before serving.

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Rotkohl (German Red Cabbage)


  • Yield: about 6 as a side dish 1x

Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 head red cabbage, shredded
  • 1 apple, grated (you can leave the skin, just remove the seeds)
  • 1/2c apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2c water
  • 1/2c sugar
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • pinch cloves
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • *for sweeter version: 4 Tbsp butter

Instructions

  1. Add cabbage, apple, vinegar, water, sugar, pepper, and cloves to a large pot. Cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook about 30 minutes or until tender, but still with a small bite. Drain liquid. Add in fresh lemon juice.
  2. *If making sweeter version: brown butter in a small saucepan by cooking it over medium-low heat until foamy and golden. Remove from heat and stir into cooked cabbage mixture with the lemon juice.

42 Comments

  1. My family (German heritage) would never forgive me if I didn’t make red cabbage with our turkey at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I make it like my German mother-in-law by sauteing one diced onion and a small diced clove of garlic in a couple of teaspoons of bacon drippings. When wilted I add one jar of Kuhne’s red cabbage and about 1 cup of water, salt, pepper and two bay leaves. I bring it to a boil, turn down to simmer and let cook for approx. 1 hour. If the juices evaporate I add a little water.

  2. I tried this with a red cabbage from our neighbor’s garden. I didn’t want to pour off liquids after cooking and lose nutrition down the drain, so I just used the vinegar and sugar, no water. Covered the pot, turned heat on medium, set timer for 30 minutes, stirred it a couple of times during that half hour. Turned heat to medium low last few minutes, so it wouldn’t be cooked too tender. It turned out wonderful with liquids just right.

  3. For a slightly richer version, replace the apple cider vinegar with red wine vinegar, and 10 minutes before surving, poor in a 1/2 cup of actual wine. It makes is much, much richer in taste, but balances the sweet/vinegar flavours quite well.

  4. Danke shoen for the recipe! It’s regrettable that although my husband has a rich heritage, he’s a Taurus stuck on an “American Diet”. I have a passionate love affair with age-old foods, and sauerkraut is a favorite of mine. I’m so glad to see a sweeter recipe that my beloved might try! (Maybe I can graduate his taste buds to the super-nutritious sauer kohl/kraut dishes!)
    Danke, danke, und danke!

  5. I have just found your web page looking for recipes for red cabbage. Will definitely try yours. My great grandfather was German , so I claim a little bit of German Heritage ! When I went on school exchange to Germany many years ago, my host made a wonderful open plum tart . The base was kind of biscuity/spongy with plums halved on top. Do you happen to know this receipe. I would love to try it again. Thank you.

  6. Thank you for the recipe. I was talking with my grandmother earlier about this random cabbage dish she made me when I was little. She couldn’t remember what it’s name was, she’s 92 and her Greman is slipping , and this is what I was looking for! It’s close enough to her discription of the one she would make in Gremany during WW2. I remember hers having bits of beef occasionally (if you care to try).

  7. Basically this is a good recipe.
    Please specify size of cabbage head. I used a medium/large and the recipe did not have enough liquid. Had to make another half recipe of the vinegar/sugar liquid to cook all this cabbage (large Dutch oven filled more than 3/4 full.) I reduced the sugar to a generous 1/3 cup and used brown sugar as recommended by a commentor. Liked the brown butter addition. It helped smooth the sweet/sour tang.

  8. I actually liked this. I’m southern…NC, and have only tried cabbage mushy, stewed with meat. I have never liked it in any form. I dont like southern slaw either. I made this recipe tonight for my son’s Germany foods project. He’s in kindergarten. I cooked brats, shredded potatoe cakes, and an apple strudel too. We all tried everything together as a family and I put on my brave face and took a bite of cabbage. I couldn’t believe I didn’t hate it. I took another bite And I actually LIKE it!!! I ate a 2nd helping! Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  9. Excellent recipe. My husband and I love trying different foods from all ethnicities. Made this about a month ago and it was excellent. We were very worried about eating this cabbage dish but were Very surprised of no after effects (if you know what i mean) for either if us. We ate it all week long as an accompaniment to other dishes and it was great. Thank you for the recipe Emily.

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