How to make a traditional German red cabbage recipe or Rotkohl recipe, the perfect accompaniment for goulash, roast beef, goose, or duck. Easy to make, economical, and incredibly flavorful.
Try our traditional recipe for making German red cabbage, just like my German mother-in-law makes it.
This is probably the most popular German side dish recipe and the red cabbage recipe I cook most of the time myself. I might add some orange juice and maybe some other spices from time to time (something more exotic like a cinnamon stick), but actually, I rarely leave the path...
This dish is just like a good German red cabbage dish should be, that is soft, aromatic, and fruity, a worthy side for many other typical German dishes like Sauerbraten – sour marinated roast or another kind of roasts, baked sausages, goulash, goose or duck, beef roulades and so on.
And if you are interested in German food, check out more traditional recipes: Authentic German Goulash (great with red cabbage), German Potato Salad, Slow Cooked Pork Hocks, Stuffed Savoy Cabbage, or German Meatballs in Caper Sauce - Königsberger Klopse. And learn How to Cook Jerusalem Artichokes (or Sunchokes).
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- Red cabbage: One small to medium red cabbage (blue cabbage or purple cabbage) weighing more or less 1 kg/ 2.2 lbs.
- Apples: One or two small, tangy apples. They will overcook in the stew and disintegrate, coating the cabbage with a film of squishy apples.
- Apple sauce is a great substitute; it makes the dish aromatic, slightly tangy, and fruity. It also covers the cabbage in a thin film of apple sauce, making the dish creamier than the original, which is made with fresh apples.
- I use homemade, barely-sweetened apple sauce most of the time. Store-bought apple sauce is wonderful; make sure you buy an unsweetened or very lightly sweetened sauce. Apple sauce, which is meant to be served as a dessert, would be too sweet for making this German red cabbage recipe.
- Spices: The spices are an essential part of this recipe. I’ve had red cabbage spiced with only salt and pepper, which was not impressive. You will need bay leaves, allspice, juniper berries, and whole cloves.
- Red wine: You don't have to go for expensive wine here, but don't buy the cheapest one either. Low to mid-price category, something you would also drink and not use only for cooking.
- Vinegar: I use red wine or apple cider vinegar, whatever I have.
- Sugar: Brown sugar for the caramel note and some white sugar for adjusting the flavor at the end.
How to cook German red cabbage
- Preparations: Remove the tough outer leaves and the core, and shred the red cabbage. Peel apples and cut them into small cubes.
- Sauté: Melt the butter in a large pot or large Dutch oven. Sprinkle sugar in the pot and let it caramelize on medium-low heat (1). Add the shredded cabbage and the apples (2) and sauté lightly on medium-high heat for about 5 minutes (often stirring) (3).
- Simmer: If using apple sauce, add it now. Add spices, wine, vinegar, fine sea salt, and ground black pepper. Cover the pot and simmer the cabbage on low heat for 1 hour. Stir from time to time and add more red wine if necessary (I didn't need to, but keep an eye on the pot, it should not get too dry) (4).
- Check for salt and pepper and for more sweetness or sourness. Add a pinch of sugar and a little red wine or balsamic vinegar to taste to balance and sweet and sour flavor. The German red cabbage needs to be flavorful. As mentioned above, plain bland red cabbage is not a joy.
Making this authentic German red cabbage recipe is very easy. The only thing that requires a bit of dedication is chopping the cabbage. Once you've done that, there is not much for you to do anymore.
- Make sure that the cabbage is finely chopped and, if using whole apples, that they are peeled. This is because the peel would remain tougher than the rest, and you don’t want that.
- Let the brown sugar caramelize nicely, but don’t let it burn. If it burns, start over again, as you will not like the bitterness.
- Once you have caramelized the sugar and added the cabbage, stir very often for the first five minutes before adding the wine. This will prevent the sugar from catching and ensure that the red cabbage is braised and coated with the sugar.
It is rich in nutrients and contains lots of Vitamin C; one serving covers 56% of the recommended daily Vitamin C intake. Other vitamins found in it are Vitamins K, B5, and A. It is an anti-inflammatory food and might help fight arthritis. Like many other Brassica vegetables, it might reduce cancer risk. It also enables you to keep a healthy gut, especially when fermented.
Refrigerate in an airtight container for 3-4 days. Then, you can reheat the leftovers several days in a row.
This means you can cook it in advance and reheat it before serving; it tastes even better if cooked in advance and served the next day.
Leftovers freeze very well. Freeze individual portions and thaw them in the fridge overnight or on the counter for 1 hour or so. You can start reheating the cabbage when still slightly frozen, stirring often.
What to serve with red cabbage?
So many things. Red cabbage is the perfect side dish for many German dishes. For instance, the classic Sauerbraten, roasted duck, or beef or pork roast. Try it with Baked Pork Chops and Potatoes, Red Wine Turkey, Roasted Stuffed Whole Chicken, or Balsamic Beef.
The typical mother-in-law Christmas lunch consists of roast duck, German red cabbage, Brussels sprouts in white sauce, and bread or potato dumplings. Boiled or mashed potatoes instead of dumplings are great as well.
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German Red Cabbage (Rotkohl Recipe)
- Large pan or Dutch oven
- 2.2 lbs red cabbage 1 kg, Note 1
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 small apples tangy, Note 2
- 3 bay leaves
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- 5 juniper berries
- 3 cloves
- 1 cup red wine 250 ml
- 1 splash red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 1 pinch granulated sugar to taste
- fine sea salt and ground black pepper
- Cabbage and apples: Remove the tough outer leaves. Quarter the red cabbage and remove the core. Shred the cabbage finely. Peel apples and cut them into small cubes if you use apples instead of apple sauce.
- Caramelize sugar: Melt the butter in a large pan. Sprinkle the sugar in the pot and let it caramelize (don’t let it burn).
- Sauté red cabbage: Add cabbage and apples and sauté lightly for about 5 minutes, often stirring. Add 3 bay leaves, ¼ teaspoon allspice, 5 juniper berries, 3 cloves, 1 cup red wine, and 1 splash of vinegar. Add about ½ teaspoon salt and some black pepper. If using apple sauce instead of fresh apples, add it now.
- Simmer: Cover the pot, turn down the heat, and let the red cabbage simmer for 1 hour. Stir from time to time and add more red wine if necessary (I didn't need to, but keep an eye on the pot, it should not get too dry).
- Check for salt and pepper and for more sweetness or sourness. Add a pinch of sugar and a little red wine or balsamic vinegar (to taste) to balance and sweet and sour flavor.
- If the cabbage is larger and you want to make a larger batch increase the rest of the ingredients accordingly. The cooked red cabbage freezes very well.
- Replace apples with ½ cup (100 g/ 3.5 oz) unsweetened or lightly sweetened apple sauce. Add it to the pot together with the spices, red wine, and vinegar.