If you've been following along recently, you'll know that my family and I spent a month living in a hotel room when we first got to Germany. Actually two adjoined rooms, the kids in one and hubs and I in the other. It was a kind of torturous hell for several reasons. First, there's no escape. No way to be on your own, even for just a few minutes. I love my family, but I think by the end of that month I didn't like them very much. There's only so much SpongeBob I can listen to (in German, no less) without wanting to throw the TV out the window onto the unsuspecting folks innocently waiting for the bus out in front of the hotel. We were all driving each other crazy. And don't even get me started on the awful domino effect of one of us picking up a stomach bug.....That was a seriously miserable weekend.
One thing I did gain from that month in hotel purgatory was an intimate familiarity with German cuisine. Having no kitchen means you eat EVERY meal out. Which may sound great, and it was. For about a week. Then it got very old very quickly. We had no car for quite a while, so we had a few choices of restaurants that we could walk to (or brave the riding the train to downtown Stuttgart, which is quite intimidating for a newcomer). Our choices were mainly German biergartens or little Italian trattorias. In other words- pork, potatoes, pizza and pasta. If it wasn't for the fact that I was walking everywhere I think I would have gained 15 pounds in that month. By the end of the month, those 4 p's of my new diet left me seriously craving fresh vegetables.
Germany's answer to the vegetable with dinner (if indeed you get a veggie) is cabbage in all of it's various renderings. You will find it chopped and quickly pickled, fully sauerkraut-ed, sliced and quickly sauteed with some apple or slow cooked- usually with some bacon or other smoked pork. I've never been a cabbage girl. In fact, living in SoCal, we used to live fields where cabbages grew all year long and the smell when the cabbages were harvested was enough to make me want to stay away from the cruciferous veggie for a long, long time. But necessity being what it is and my choices being limited, I've learned to like (kinda) cabbage. Today's recipe reflects the way that I've found like cabbage best. When slow cooked with vinegar, bacon and apples cabbage loses most of it's stinky quality and becomes silky, sweet/tart and slightly smoky. The Germans know a thing or two about pork and in my opinion pairing pork and cabbage is one of their best culinary contributions to date. Oh, and beer. And pretzels. Or Black Forest cake. Maybe strudel....
Balsamic Braised Cabbage with Apples and Bacon
Serves 4. Adapted only slightly from the irresistible Jamie Oliver.
For the printable recipe, click here.
This is a simple recipe for a Sunday supper side dish. It takes a while to braise, but the ingredients are few and easy to come by. I like it served along side braised pork shoulder for a very German meal. You can use whatever cabbage you like. The original recipe called for purple cabbage, which would be a beautiful color when finished. I found savoy cabbage at my market and it seemed to hold up very well to the long braise. As I was using a green cabbage I thought the heavy dark balsamic vinegar from Jamie Oliver's recipe would turn the dish an odd brown color. I found a white balsamic in my cupboard and went with that, though I think apple cider vinegar would work just as nicely and add a bit more punch to the end result.
4 slices of thick sliced smoked bacon, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1 tsp cumin or fennel seeds
1 small onion, halved and sliced
1 apple, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 head of savoy cabbage, roughly chopped
2/3 cup white balsamic or apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
In a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until it is brown and (in Jamie Oliver's words) slightly sticky. Toss in the cumin seeds and saute for a moment until they are fragrant. Add the onions, stir and cover the pan. Cook until the onions become wilted and slightly translucent (about 5 minutes).
Add the apples, cabbage and vinegar and stir to combine ingredients well. Lower the heat to low, replace the lid and cook, stirring occasionally, for an hour. The cabbage will be wilted and silky and the vinegar will have been absorbed almost completely. Serve right away.