Red cabbage is plentiful, inexpensive and too often overlooked. This week you’ll find the gorgeous magenta cabbages piled high at our farmers markets.
At its peak, red cabbage is crisp, slightly peppery and versatile, delicious in raw shredded salads and long-slow braises, as well as stir-fries, sautés and soups. Each cooking method reveals a different character of cabbage.
A good head of red cabbage is firm and heavy, with tightly wrapped leaves. It should squeak with freshness when cut with a sharp knife.
Keep the head whole until ready to use. The best way to store red cabbage is to wrap the head in a paper towel, spritz with a little water and place it in a plastic bag. It’s best stored in the crisper section of the refrigerator. It will stay fresh this way for about a week.
When preparing red cabbage, peel off and discard any leaves that are wilted or limp, and use the entire head. Many cookbooks advise removing and discarding the core, but I find that step to be unnecessary and wasteful.
Red cabbage slaws are the perfect match to autumn’s robust flavors — smoked sausages, grilled pork and roasted game. Apples or pears add mellow sweetness to any red cabbage dish. Dress red cabbage with ingredients that play up the clean, assertive taste. Skip the mayonnaise or creamy concoctions and go with simple apple cider or sherry vinegars and lighter oils such as hazelnut and sunflower, rather than a strong olive oil. Use a basic ratio of one part vinegar to two parts oil. Try vibrant seasonings such as ginger or caraway seeds, red pepper flakes and cracked black pepper to give the slaw a lift.
Red cabbage slaws are delicious served as soon as they are made and even better the next day when the flavors have married and the textures have softened a bit. Plan ahead so there’s enough to layer into sandwiches or serve with crackers, sliced cured meat, and aged hard cheese.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.