I like to be alone when eating cabbage. Not because eating cabbage is shameful or embarrassing or messy, but because that is all I want. A big bowl of braised red cabbage, all for me.
Mr. Cabbage, I will thinly slice you and saute you with some apple and bacon. A hint of vinegar and maple syrup will add just the right sweet and sour notes as you begin to soften. I will cover you and slip you into the oven, like a child blanketed to bed, and leave you for an hour or so. When I return, I will find you miraculously melted into something transcendant- silky, smooth, tender. And I will have you all to myself, in a big bowl with only perhaps a hunk of good bread on the side. No one to ask me where th protein is, or quibble about so called 'main courses' and 'proper balanced meals.' Just you and me, with a fork in one hand and hopefully a good book in the other.
And in case I haven't quite had my fill of you, you will be just as good, if not better, the next day, cold, straight from the fridge. By then, your dark ruby hue will have turned almost black in the chill, eliciting contempt from any passers-by or finicky small children. But pay them no mind, for I know the sweetness you hide, and I will keep you a closely guarded secret, snatched in snippets by the cool door of the open refrigerator.
Braised Red Cabbage with Apple and Maple Syrup
This is a winter staple in our house, for everyday eaing I make it without the bacon, but it's also a regular on our holiday table, where the bacon shows up for the occaision. If you're short on oven space, you can do the braise on the stove top over very low heat. Adapted from Molly Stevens.
2 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (optional)
1 large head red cabbage (a scant 2 pounds), quartered, cored, and thinly sliced
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
2. Add the bacon to a large deep ovenproof skillet (12- to 13-inch) over medium heat, and fry the bacon until it renders its fat and begins to crisp, 5 minutes. Scoop out the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside on paper towels to drain.
3. Keep the the bacon fat in the pan and stir in the sliced onion. Season with salt and pepper and sauté, stirring a few times, until the onion turns limp, about 2 minutes. Add the apple and ginger and stir to combine. (If the pan gets dry add a bit of butter,lard or shmaltz to it) Increase the heat to medium-high and begin adding the cabbage a few handfuls at a time. Once all the cabbage is in the skillet, sauté, stirring frequently, until the strands begin to wilt and have a moist gleam, about 6 minutes. Add the vinegar and syrup, and return the bacon to the pan. Stir to incorporate, and let the liquid come to a boil.
4. Cover the pan and slide into the middle of the oven. Braise at a gentle simmer, stirring every 20 minutes, until the cabbage is tender and deeply fragrant, about 1 hour. Serve warm or at room temperature.