Isolde’s Rotkohl (Red Cabbage)

Last week I used some of the green cabbage I bought at the Farmer’s Market the previous Saturday to make John’s Haluski.  There were some beautiful red cabbages for sale that also tempted me, but Jerri’s observation that “We can only eat so much” killed that impulse before I even picked up the particularly good-looking head that had caught my eye.

But seeing that red cabbage got me thinking about a weekend we spent in Washington, DC with Gunther and Isolde, our friends from West Germany, when I was a student at the University of Virginia and Jerri was teaching high school in Charlottesville.  Gunther was working on a doctorate in economics and had a fellowship in Washington.

Like most Germans from that era, they liked to walk.  We were young then and managed to keep up as they guided us through the Smithsonian Institution, the National Gallery of Art and on trails along the Potomac River.  They were neat people who enjoyed good wines and good food.  Gunther picked out the wines and Isolde was a gourmet cook.

Isolde’s red cabbage is the best I have ever tasted, and Jerri does a great job with it.  This recipe complements any roast, but it is especially good with pork.  It’s easy to make, inexpensive and delicious any time you can find a good head of red cabbage.  But it is also a festive dish that will make your holiday dinner special.


2 lbs. of red cabbage (1 medium head)
2 T of butter or oil
1 medium onion (about 2” in diameter)
1 cup of apple cider
3 or 4 Tablespoons of red wine vinegar
1 bay leaf
3 or 4 cloves
2 or 3 T sugar
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. salt to taste


Prepare the cabbage by removing any wilted outer leaves and the stem.  Wash it thoroughly and chop it, but not too finely.  Remove the outer layers from the onion and chop it fine.  Heat the butter or oil in a large saucepan and sauté the onion a minute or two until it is transparent.  Add the chopped cabbage and allow it to cook a few minutes uncovered.

Add the apple cider, vinegar, bay leaf, cloves, sugar and salt.  Stir and cover.  Turn down the heat and allow the cabbage to simmer for 70 to 90 minutes.  Properly done, the cabbage will be soft but not mushy.

This is a side dish that you can prepare a day in advance, if you wish, or serve it proudly as a leftover, for as Isolde wrote at the end of her recipe:  “Der Kohl schmeckt besonders gut, wenn er aufgewärmt ist.”  Or, “The cabbage tastes especially good when it is warmed up again.”

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