What to Do With an Overload of Red Cabbage

January 23, 2015

Winter is here and we're serious about keeping farmers market produce on the menu. Alexandra Stafford of Alexandra Cooks shows us how to store, prep, and make the most of it, without wasting a scrap.

Today: Make the most out of your red cabbage with a vibrant, addictive salad -- plus a million other ways to love cabbage more.

I have my husband's grandmother Violet to thank for introducing me to my favorite holiday side dish: Danish red cabbage, which is a mix of vinegar, sugar, lots of butter, a jar of red currant jelly, and two heads of chopped red cabbage. I’ve never seen Violet make it, but I’ve heard that when she does, she tends to it all day, dipping a fork into her Dutch oven often to taste and adjust and season. Apparently, no one in the family makes it as well as Violet.

Every year in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I look forward to pulling out her hand-written recipe card and attempting to replicate this old family standby. I love it so much, in fact, that I associate red cabbage with only this dish. And as soon as the holidays pass, I don't want to think about any other cabbage preparation besides this one, the following fall.

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So when heads of purple cabbage show up in my C.S.A. box, I struggle to put them to use, often shoving them in the vegetable bin where they sit for weeks until I shred them into a slaw or roast them in wedges. Both are preparations that always leave me wanting.

Red cabbage is coarser than green and, especially when served raw, needs a little more attention, more seasoning, and a bright, sharp dressing to draw out its sweetness. The one in Mission Chinese Food’s Cabbage Salad is just the thing. The first time I looked at the recipe, in addition to feeling a little overwhelmed by the length and content of the ingredient list, I also thought that it looked promising -- lots of acid (two different vinegars and fresh lemon), lots of flavor (miso, tahini, soy sauce, anchovies, and three different types of seaweed), and a variety of texture (cabbage, beets, and kasha, or roasted buckwheat).

At first glance, too, this salad looks like an odd jumble of ingredients, many of which you might not have in your pantry. Don't let that deter you. Sam Sifton described the combination as "a riot of umami," and, relaying Mission Chinese Food's message, encouraged readers not to worry about finding each and every ingredient -- any number of vinegars could work in place of the ume and rice vinegars, and using just one of the three seaweeds is just fine. (I was able to find everything I needed with the exception of the shio kombu, which I left out, at my local co-op.)

This salad is at once hearty and fresh, familiar and unusual, and surprisingly addictive. It's a dish that, even after Violet's, made me excited for the cabbage in my C.S.A.

Here's how to treat the cabbage in your C.S.A:
Purple cabbage should feel firm and heavy with shiny, tight leaves laid against each other. Store it in a cool environment such as your fridge, basement, or garage, and when you're ready to prep, remove any outer wilted or scraggly leaves. Then, proceed with preparing as your recipe directs. If you're preparing the cabbage for a raw salad, cut it in half from pole to pole, then remove the triangular-shaped core in each half with a sharp knife. Cooking it instead? If you're worried about offending anyone with its sulfuric odor, boiling it for a couple of minutes in salted water should remove some of its pungency.

Ideas for putting your cabbage to work: 
Red cabbage's firm texture makes it ideal for slaws and salads, where it won’t wilt under a hearty dressing. But as with all cabbages, red cabbage can be braised, steamed, stir-fired, stuffed, or made into sauerkraut.

Make Fergus Henderson’s tangy, sweet winter salad, or marinate cabbage and kale in a lime vinaigrette and toss with toasted sunflower seeds.

Use Molly Stevens’ technique and nestle cabbage wedges in a buttered baking dish, cover with foil, braise for two hours adding apples and vinegar halfway, then finish uncovered with red currant jelly until caramelized. Or, braise chopped red cabbage with red wine and red wine vinegar, a pinch of garam masala, roasted beets, tart apples, and sweet carrots.

Make a hearty main course salad: Quickly sauté cabbage, carrots, and fennel, toss with za’atar-spiced roasted chickpeas, and finish with mint, raisins and feta. Or try a bright wintry side dish of sautéed beet greens, red chard, red cabbage, and roasted beets.

Make a dumpling filling with shredded cabbage, carrots, and edamame, and a host of herbs, garlic, and ginger. Then stuff the mixture into wontons, steam, and serve with a soy dipping sauce.

Toss slices of cabbage and onions with a balsamic dressing, and roast until tender. Top with pears and goat cheese, and continue roasting until melted and caramelized.

Mission Chinese Food’s Cabbage Salad

Serves 4 to 6

1/2 head red cabbage
1 medium beet (yellow or candy-striped is nice)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon dried hijiki seaweed
1 teaspoon ume vinegar or red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sweet white miso paste
3 tablespoons tahini
1 teaspoon unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon shiro shoyu or light soy sauce
8 anchovy fillets, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons neutral oil, like canola
1/2 cup kasha
2 tablespoons aonori seaweed, green seaweed, or finely shredded nori
2 tablespoons toasted white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon shio kombu or salted kombu, optional

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here.

Photos by Alexandra Stafford

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I write the blog alexandra's kitchen, a place for mostly simple, sometimes fussy, and always seasonal recipes. My cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs is available everywhere books are sold.


lavagal January 25, 2015
Beautiful salad. I live in Hawaii so all of these ingredients are pretty easy to come by. Except for the salted konbu, I'd really think this is a Japanese dish --seaweeds, mirin, white sesame seeds. Anyone else catch that, too? Mahalo, loved your narrative.
Author Comment
Alexandra S. January 25, 2015
What a dream! I lived in Southern California for almost 4 years, and my biggest regret is not making the effort to get out to Hawaii. And yes, absolutely, lots of Japanese influence in this salad. Check out the original article if you feel like it: Sam Sifton notes that the salad Danny Bowien and his head chef created "owed more to Japan than to Caesar, who in the end contributed only a tin of anchovies."
lavagal January 25, 2015
Aha! I subscribe to Sam's Cooking newsletter. He's so fun. Thanks for the link! And yes, you should come. Fares TO Hawaii are cheaper than fares FROM Hawaii (no logic there)! And now that Hawaiian Air flies to the U.S. Mainland, there's a carrier who provides Aloha from check-in to the HNL arrivals terminal! Mahalo!!!
Author Comment
Alexandra S. January 25, 2015
Oh that would be amazing! Could use some sun right about now :)

I subscribe to Sam's letter too — it really is fun!
mare January 25, 2015
hi alexandra-
i have a green cabbage staring at me from my fridge shelf. Would it work in place of the red, do you think, or should i save that for something else and grab a red one at the store later? Thanks!
Author Comment
Alexandra S. January 25, 2015
Absolutely use the green! I think green cabbage will be delicious here, maybe even more so than purple.
Pegeen January 25, 2015
Wonderful recipes - thank you so much. I've got a wealth of red cabbage too.

Would love to see your grandmother's Danish cabbage recipe! Any chance of typing out that index card here? :-)

Thanks again.
Author Comment
Alexandra S. January 25, 2015
Of course! Violet would be so proud :)

Grandma Violet's Red Sweet and Sour Danish Cabbage

2 heads of red cabbage, shredded or chopped
1/2 jar (or more) red currant jelly
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vinegar (or more)
1/2 to 3/4 cups butter

Place chopped up cabbage in large Dutch oven and cook with butter, jelly, sugar and vinegar until soft. The longer you simmer it, the better it will taste. Add more sugar, jelly or vinegar to taste. Add salt to taste.

My notes: This really is a "to-taste" recipe. When we make it, we simmer it for hours and everyone weighs in on what it needs — more salt, more vinegar, etc. — but it all comes together in the end :)
Linda T. January 25, 2015
Is the kasha raw or cooked before frying?
Author Comment
Alexandra S. January 25, 2015
It's raw actually. I had never used kasha before this recipe, and I would have guessed by looking at it that it would have to be cooked, but in this recipe it gets a quick toasting in some hot oil and that's all.
Millie |. January 24, 2015
OMG that looks insane!!! Pinned!
HalfPint January 23, 2015
Could have used this article during the summer when my CSA box always seem to have red cabbage.
Author Comment
Alexandra S. January 23, 2015
I love love love belonging to a CSA and usually am astounded by the quality of the produce, but sometimes — purple cabbage in the summer, for example — it can be tough. I mean, I am sure the purple cabbage in the summer tastes better than the ones we've been getting, which have been stored, but still, when tomatoes and cucumbers and peppers are everywhere, some CSA produce is just hard to accept. Yes, keep this one in mind for next summer!
Sabine January 23, 2015
The salad recipe is wonderful. I´m used to having apple red cabbage (cooked, not raw) e as a side with venison. It works well with blue cheeses and nuts as well, as tartelettes than can be made with leftover cabbage.
Author Comment
Alexandra S. January 23, 2015
Yes, cabbage + apples are such a good match. Love the idea of tartelettes!
Author Comment
Alexandra S. January 23, 2015
Beautiful red cabbage post! Just visited your stunning site.
Greenstuff January 23, 2015
One year, I went on a bit of a red cabbage and apple spree. Like you, I was used to the long-cooked versions. But I made a lot of others--lightly sautéed, raw, basically all the methods in Alexandra Stafford's wonderful article. I was already a red cabbage fan, but it amazed me that a vegetable we mostly relegate to those times when we can't get much else could taste so different with changes more in method than in ingredient. Great job, Alexandra.
Sabine January 24, 2015
Thanks for visiting!
Author Comment
Alexandra S. January 24, 2015
Chris, that's actually what I love about a CSA — it forces me to experiment, and often I find preparations that become my favorite. Thank you for your nice comment!
Amanda S. January 23, 2015
I need this in my life immediately. Is it one of those salads that gets better with some quiet time alone, or do I have to eat it quickly (not daunted by the prospect)?
Author Comment
Alexandra S. January 23, 2015
Haha, I love it. You know, it was not my experience that the salad got better the longer it sat. I was totally expecting it to, but oddly, it almost dried out a bit and the toasted kasha loses a bit of its texture and crunch. I vote for consuming immediately.
Amanda S. January 23, 2015
Great to know. Thank you!