Just in time for Christmas; here are two of my favorite vegetable dishes to serve with roast turkey, goose, pork or glazed ham. The spiced red cabbage can be made ahead and kept in the fridge for a few days or frozen, giving you time to fiddle around with all the other stuff on the day. It just needs to be warmed through very slowly on the stove top. It’s so good that I’ll eat it on its own or with buttery mashed spuds.
Brussels sprouts are one of those vegetables than can shift from utterly sublime to stinking in a minute if overcooked, so I’m offering a sublime version here. I know lots of people won’t eat them because they were traumatized as a child by being fed yellow, mushy, overcooked and smelly sprouts. Someone I know snuck ‘em off their plate and into their pocket for disposal later and I don’t blame them. I was fortunate; I grew up in a home where vegetables were treated with respect.
This recipe for Brussels sprouts is delicious and simpler than others out there so please give it a try and I hope it will forever change your thinking. Carnivores might prefer the bacon/pancetta option but I think they’re perfect without. I’ll eat this on it’s own as well. If you have a steamer, steam them.
Please read the usual notes at the end first.
SPICED RED CABBAGE WITH APPLES
(Serves 6-8-10 and takes 60-90-120 mins)
One large head of red cabbage
3 Golden Delicious apples
3 whole cloves
Juice of 2 large oranges
½ cup of redcurrant jelly
2-3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
2 ounces of butter
Peel, core and chop the apples and put in a heavy pan with the cloves.
Remove any tired looking outer leaves from the cabbage and cut in half from top to bottom. Cut out the white ‘V’ core and discard. Halve again then slice the cabbage finely. Pile on top if the apples.
Season with salt and add the redcurrant jelly. Pour over the orange juice. Bring to a boil then cover with a lid and turn the heat down to a simmer.
Give a good stir after 30 minutes then cover again and simmer another 30 minutes. If you think it needs more liquid, add a small amount of water (unlikely).
After an hour, test the cabbage with a sharp knife to make sure its completely tender and the apples have become very soft and the same color as the cabbage. You can keep it cooking on very low for another 30-60 minutes or so if you think it needs it. It’s better cooked longer than not long enough and should be completely tender.
Once it’s tender, add the butter and balsamic vinegar, stirring until the butter is melted. Any excess of liquid can be evaporated by turning up the heat a bit and removing the lid, but keep an eye on it as you don’t want to lose all the liquid, just most of it.
Check for seasoning; add more balsamic vinegar and redcurrant jelly or sugar to taste.
It will keep covered in the fridge for several days and it freezes well.
BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH CHESTNUTS (and Pancetta, or not)
2lbs of Brussels sprouts
8 oz peeled chestnuts, coarsely chopped (‘Marron’, not water chestnuts; available in jars or canned)
8 oz pancetta or bacon, chopped (optional)
2 oz butter
Tiny pinch of nutmeg
Trim the ends off the sprouts and discard any dark outer leaves. If some sprouts are bigger, cut a small ‘X’ in the stalk end so they cook evenly.
Place in a steamer and steam for 4-5 minutes or until crisp-tender. Alternatively, drop into boiling water and cook for 4 minutes; drain thoroughly. You can do either ahead of time but quickly rinse the cooked sprouts under cold running water to stop them from over-cooking themselves.
In a separate pan, heat the butter and add the pancetta or bacon if using (I don’t) and sauté until crispy then add the chestnuts, brussels sprouts and a small grind or pinch of nutmeg and sea salt to taste; gently warm through.
For the red cabbage – if you can’t get redcurrant jelly, use soft brown sugar (or white sugar as a last resort) – it’s equally good and I’ve used both. I’ve also cooked it on very low for 2 + hours so it depends whether you prefer it meltingly tender or slightly al dente. The amounts of vinegar and sugar are a guide as some people prefer it sweeter/tangier. You can also make it with red wine vinegar or apple juice instead of orange juice. If using apple juice, cut back on the sugar a bit.
Sprouts are best in winter after the first frost has caused them to really tighten up. Avoid buying them when they feel loose and spongy. Don’t cheat and use the frozen ones; unlike peas, they aren’t great.
If you cook the sprouts ahead, you can also cut them in half before adding to the warmed chestnuts and butter.
Happy Holidays, America! Merry Christmas, Europe!