Saturday, 10 January 2015

Not-just-Christmassy Red Cabbage

I haven't overshared for ages, because the day after my birthday, all the horrible EU VAT stuff hit, and then while I was still wrestling with that hydra-octopus, I got a wipe-out two-week-plus flu. So instead of spending my much-anticipated holiday making spice mixes and cooking muchly and doing odd decorative things to the house, I spent it sipping lemsip and banging up on EU legislation and stats. Fun fun fun.

Everyone else in the world might already have their red-cabbage recipe, but I only discovered this for the first time last New Year's (the one a year ago), for a dinner party, and thought it was so marvellous that... I didn't make it again until this winter. Which is ridiculous. Like the special notebook that's too nice to use, or the fancy ingredient you save for the right moment until it grows mould and has to be thrown away. I meant to post this recipe before Christmas, and then at least before New Year, but instead I shall stick to my original realisation, which is that it's for all of winter. Also, for a dish I'd mentally pigeonholed as "special occasion", it's very cheap, and for anyone whose New Year Resolutions feature cabbage heavily, this is for you. It is wonderful.

Warning: this takes two hours in the oven at a low temperature, so you can't cook it alongside things that want a volcanic furnace (like roast potatoes), but you can make it well in advance and a single red cabbage produces such volumes that you'll have a goodly stash tucked away in your freezer. Possibly enough for the rest of winter.

Your heroic ingredients: a round tightly packed red cabbage (just how tightly packed is about to become abundantly clear), 3-4 onions (the half is there because I had a half onion, I'm not the sort of freak who only uses half an onion in a dish... oh, wait.), about five cooking apples, a clove or two of garlic, 1/4 of a nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon of cloves (mine are whole), 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, two teaspoons of butter, and 1-2 tablespoons of brown sugar. (Delia's original recipe said 3, but I found that far too sweet.)

This makes 3-4 litres of red cabbage (sorry, didn't capture the exact quantity), so next time I'll probably halve it, if I can figure out something else good to do with half a red cabbage - Kimchi, perhaps, which I don't yet know how to make but we have a good recipe and I want to.

Hasty people: basically, just slice & chop everything and put it in a casserole dish with a lid for an hour and a half at 150 C. And now in pictures...

Oven set to 150 C, to heat.
Sometimes, when you look closely at the oven, it looks back...

The inside of a red cabbage is a vegetable Rorschach. What do you see? A rising sun? A Buddhist mandala? A crab? Cthulu?

Cut off the thick pithy core bit which you might throw into the compost or you might idly munch smeared with horseradish (you or the core) as you cook.

Slide the red cabbage fairly thinly. At this point it starts threatening to explode and you start to appreciate just how densely packed a red cabbage in fact is. That your neat cabbage-ball could in fact, given half the chance, fill the entire kitchen.

My cloves are whole, so I'm dry-frying them in my beloved little frying pan until the steam just starts to appear, then I'll chuck them in the pestle and mortar to cool. I reckon this is about a 1/4 teaspoon, once ground.

The red cabbage, barely contained in its bowls... (I need the chopping board)

Cooling cloves. Yes, I did take my eye off them to embowl the red cabbage, which I don't really advise, because whole spices go from not-yet-steaming to burnt in seconds, but it's a small kitchen and I only had my back turned for a second or two.

All the onions with their tails still on - remember the chef's trick for onions.

Reasonably finely chopped, about like this.

And now the apples - halved, quartered, cores sliced out, and then...

Chopped lengthways and sideways into chunks. I don't bother with a third horizontal cut to get actual cubes, they're going to collapse anyway.

When the apple started getting too long and tall to chop easily, I remembered the onion-trick of turning it on its side.

My cloves have cooled, so I grind them up, and add...

a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon, 1-2 Tablespoons of brown sugar, and 2 cloves of garlic because I decided one was an absurdity.
Also grate 1/4 of a nutmeg in at this point, if you remember it. (I didn't.)

Mixing all this lot together will make it easier to sprinkle the different bits evenly in amongst the apple, onion, and cabbage.

Now at this point, the recipe called for a great deal of kerfuffling of carefully alternating layers of red cabbage, onion, apple, salt & pepper, mixed spices, which I obediently and needlessly and messily followed: 

But even using two casserole dishes, I could still only use half of everything (See the other red cabbage still lurking in its bowl at the back, looking like it's really not that much after all? That's the same amount again as I've just used!) and the rest had to be compressed and squashed into the biggest tupperware I could find, for Red Cabbage Mark 2:

And this is the point at which I realised: why the hell did I just spend ages layering up something that's going to get mixed up when it's cooked anyway? Why not just mix it all thoroughly in the biggest bowl known to man, or failing that, the stock pot? It won't make any difference! And when I cooked Red Cabbage Mark 2, The Pre-Mixed Edition, it didn't make any difference.

Splash your 3 Tablespoons of red wine vinegar over the glory (or one and a half, if you've halved everything)

And dot your puzzlingly small quantities of butter onto it, wondering what exact purpose so little butter will serve. (If you're vegan, leave out the puzzling butter, naturally.)

If you forgot to add the nutmeg in earlier, this is a good moment.

The inside of a nutmeg is a quietly magical thing.

Put it all in the oven at 150 for 2 hours, which is such a generous length of time that you could do practically anything in the interval. In my case, I blogged about how to chop a bell pepper, quick 'n dirty frittata, perfect rice, and collating chilli con carne. Which suggests it's a good amount of time to get happily stuck into whatever creative hobby project you have to hand. 

It's clearly a wintery, traditional dish, and I think it goes very well with other autumnally wintery things like roast duck and fowl generally, crispy roast potatoes, roast squash (they don't really go crispy because of all the sugars, but if you leave the skin on the butternut, that gives a nice texture), and then because the whole plate's pallette is now earth-tones, something properly dark green like kale fried in garlic oil.

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