Trust me, you will want to have this spicy pickled red cabbage recipe the next time you are ready for your next summer BBQ. This is a quick pickle, meaning there is no water bath canning involved. But this recipe does take some time. The pickle needs a couple of weeks to reach full flavour, so plan ahead.
You have to agree with me that this is the prettiest pickle you have ever seen.
Wait -- I might have said that before.
Ok - so regardless... The last CSA bin delivery for the year - on December 16 no less - included this lovely red cabbage. But with the holidays right around the corner and dinners out already planned, I just did not see it getting used for anything.
My dad is Polish. And while I don't remember ever eating pickled red cabbage at my grandfather's lunch table, I just knew cabbage, pickled would be a good thing. And likely something my grandfather made at one point or another - because he was like that. And this is such a good spicy thing. A little heat from black pepper and red chilies, plus sweet, exoticness from all the other good stuff - cardamom, fennel, coriander seeds and cinnamon.
I found this recipe in Sugar, Salt and Smoke. A book lent by a friend "to do something interesting with" - and so I did. I think this qualifies.
Why this pickled red cabbage recipe works
This is a quick or refrigerator pickle. Basically, this means that the finished pickle is not processed after packing into jars -- there is no water bath or pressure canning step required in this recipe. But this does mean that you have to keep this pickle in the refrigerator.
This refrigerator pickle uses two types of vinegar - apple cider or white for its acidity, and balsamic for its colour and sweetness. Red wine further enhances the colour and richness of the brine. It always adds a depth of flavour not achieved by vinegar alone. To all this is a mixture of sweet and warm spices -- cardamon, coriander, fennel cinnamon, caraway, cloves -- and some hot and fiery ones too -- chillies and black pepper. The result is a tangy, spicy, warm, fresh, slightly sweet pickle that is good on just about everything.
How to make spicy pickled red cabbage
There is a time commitment to this recipe. You will need about 5 hours start to finish to make this pickled red cabbage. And then you will need to wait 2 weeks so the pickle gets really pickled. But it's worth it. And most of this time is hands-off time.
First salt the cabbage.
Salting the cabbage softens the fibres of the cabbage so it is tender and pliable. Salting also helps draw out some of the moisture so the cabbage can absorb some of the brine.
Salting the cabbage takes time but it's not active kitchen time. Just let it sit in a colander for a few hours while you do other stuff. The perfect thing to start first thing in the morning and then head out for errands or lunch.
Don't massage or rub the salt into the cabbage. Just layer the salt between the shredded cabbage leaves in a colander and walk away.
After about four hours give the cabbage a good rinse and let it dry well. I like to give it a good shake to remove the water and then lay it out on a clean towel while I make the brine.
Second, make the brine.
A hot brine is made by simmering vinegars, wine and sugar and reducing the mixture to about half. This concentrates the brine. Both cider vinegar and balsamic vinegar are used in this recipe. Along with red wine. This combination makes a rich, deep-hued brine which complements all the warm and fiery spices. Once the mixture is reduced stir in the spices and let them sit to flavour the brine, for about 30 minutes.
Finally, pack the jars and chill
I do recommend well-cleaned and sterilized jars for this pickle. Because these jars are not going to be water-bath processed, sterilized is not 100% necessary, but well cleaned is - so I always go that extra step.
The easiest way to clean and sterilize jars is simply to run them through your dishwasher's sterlize setting. Or simply wash with hot soapy water and rinse well. Then let them sit in a 220-degree oven for about 10 minutes.
But remember this pickle is not shelf-stable. It will need to be refrigerated.
Tightly pack the cabbage into each jar. I find one small head of red cabbage will fill two 500 ml jars about perfectly. Once filled, with a fine mesh sieve held over the jar, ladle brine until the cabbage is fully covered.
Place and secure the lids of the jars. Lids should be tight. The brine should not be particularly hot at this point, but you can allow the jars to sit until cool if needed. Then transfer the jars to the refrigerator.
Keep the picked red cabbage refrigerated. Both opened and unopened jars should be refrigerated.
The pickle needs at least 2 weeks to become a full pickle and for the flavours to really penetrate. The pickle will last about 3 months in the refrigerator.
How to use pickled red cabbage
This pretty purple pickle has added vibrant colour and interest to all kinds of winter and summer dishes. Here is where we are using it:
- Add this pickle to salads, salads always need a pickle, and this one adds a nice bright colour.
- Finely chop a few tablespoons and stir into cooked grains with some chopped nuts as a side dish
- Add to budda bowls for a little extra flavour
- Once summer BBQs come around, top burgers or anything else that comes off the grill
- Serve on top of tacos for a tangy crunch
And while I write this there is snow outside, I'm more than certain that we all need a stash of this ready for when the BBQs are cleaned off in a week or two. Because in two weeks I'll be ready for outside dining. I just know it.
Pickled Red Cabbage
- 1 red cabbage
- 75 g sea salt
- 325 ml cider vinegar
- 125 ml balsamic vinegar
- 500 ml red wine
- 325 g white sugar
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- ½ teaspoon coriander seeds
- ½ teaspoon caraway
- 2-3 whole dried red chillies
- 20 cardamon pods
- 1 cinnamon stick broken into three pieces
- 6 cloves
- Remove most outer leaves of cabbage and cut into quarters. Finely shred the cabbage, leaving behind the tough inner core. Layer shredded cabbage in a bowl, sprinkle with salt in between layers and leave to sit for about 4 hours.
- Rinse and drain the cabbage, remove most of the salt and dry with a clean tea towel.
- In a small sauce pan heat vinegars, wine and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar is disolved. Continue to boil until liquid has reduced by half.
- Using a mortar and pestle roughly crush all the spices except for the cloves and the cinnamon. Add the crushed spiced, along with the cloves and the cinnamon, to the vinegar and let sit, off the heat, for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, turn on oven to 225 degrees and wash 2 500ml canning jars and lids with hot soapy water. To sterilize, place clean and dry jars into the hot oven for at least 20 minutes before packing.
- Pack the cabbage into sterilized jars and using a fine mesh sieve, strain the vinegars over the cabbage. Seal and let cool. Keep refrigerated. Best if you wait 2 weeks before giving it a try to get a good pickle. Will last about 3 months. Makes 2 500ml jars.