I've always felt that there's something strangely stage-like about winter. Leaves or snow line the streets like props and the heavy gray sky closes in, becoming more ceiling than expanse. Footsteps echo louder on the cold asphalt, and bundled beneath layers of clothing, I find myself observing more than interacting. In these most monochrome days, a shot of color is always welcome.
This is another old family recipe, one that my grandmother learned from her mother. I tried to collect several over the holidays. I believe, although I have no basis, that the popularity of this dish in Eastern European cuisine comes as much from its color as its taste, both of which are bright and memorable. In the cold, colorless winter months, one would be shocked to find that nature is capable of producing such a jewel-toned magenta amongst the grays and browns of boiled meat and boiled potatoes.
Although some sweet and sour cabbage recipes use vinegar, my grandmother's calls for lemon. And if, as Laurie Colwin claims, lemon is the workhorse of the kitchen, this is a sure-fire way to put it to use. As you add the lemon and stir, it instantly and quite magically turns the cabbage into a shimmering hue. This dish should be steamed on a warm stove, slowly on low, until it reaches your desired doneness. Meltingly tender without being mushy is a worthy goal, and this could take between 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the heat of your stove and the amount of cabbage. As with so many old family recipes, everything is done by taste and look, but I wrangled approximate measurements out of my pour grandmother as she tried to cook, all so you could enjoy this simplest of winter pleasures, bright and anachronistic in the cold, dark months.
German Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage
1 head red cabbage
1 tablespoon salt or to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 Lemones, juiced (not just mashed around with your hands), to taste
1/2 cup sugar, to taste
Slice the red cabbage and remove the core as you slice it. Using a food processor, grate the cabbage. Place the cabbage in a large saucepan and season with salt. Add 1/4 cup of water and drizzle the olive oil over the top. Add the bayleaves and stir to combine.
Add the lemon juice and the sugar in increments to taste, don't be afraid to stick a spoon in there as these should be added according to how you like your cabbage. As you stir, the lemon will turn the cabasse a neon shade of pink. Cover and cook over low heat for 45 minutes - 1 hour until cooked down to desired doneness. Remove the bayleaves before serving.
* * *
I'm sending this post in to Briciole for Fresh Produce of the Month, which this month is cabbage!