There’s a tendency, as Christmas approaches, to shower everything with spice. Anything that stands still for long enough is likely to be wassailed, and you’re not fully in the Christmas spirit if everything you eat and drink for the month of December isn’t mulled or spiced. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, mixed spice. We can’t move for them. I get spice fatigue. Not least because a slightly heavy-handed cook, perhaps one who has partaken in too much of the mulled stuff themselves, can make anything taste like a mouthful of pot pourri.
There are so many drinks I’d rather have at the festive period than mulled wine: champagne, certainly, sherry, brandy, even port. Anything rather than cheap red wine, almost-boiled, with one of those sad sacks of spices, that always seems to leak into the pot leaving a gritty residue at the bottom of everyone’s glass.
So it’s easy to avoid it all like the plague when, actually, a little judicious Christmas spicing can be completely glorious. The Danes have got it right with their traditional festive fare of spiced red cabbage. The cabbage should be braised with lots of vinegar and a little sugar, a whole cinnamon stick until it’s tender and glossy, aromatic, sweet and sour.
And although it will happily hold its own on your Christmas Day table, alongside your roasties, sprouts – and particularly good with pigs in blankets – I like it best in the days that surround Christmas, with cold leftover turkey, or warm boxing day ham.
Spiced red cabbage
Makes: A side dish for 6 people
Takes: 3 hours
Bakes: 30-40 minutes
1 red cabbage
1 red onion
1 cinnamon stick
¼ tsp ground cloves
1 non-cooking apple
50g dark brown sugar
150ml balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp redcurrant sauce
- First, cut up the red cabbage: begin by slicing so that you get long strips, but as you work your way through the cabbage towards the core, this will get thicker and chunkier; chop these last bits into bitesize pieces.
- Dice the onion and sauce in the oil in a large pan. Cook low and slow until the onion is soft, but not coloured. Add the cinnamon and ground cloves, the cabbage, apple, sugar, redcurrant jelly, and vinegar.
- Give the whole thing a good stir, place the lid on top and cook for an hour, checking on it now and again to make sure the cabbage isn’t sticking.
- Check the cabbage for tenderness by sticking the point of a sharp knife into it, if it’s soft and yielding, it’s ready; if not, give it another ten minutes on the hob and check again.
- Just before serving, stir through a knob of salted butter.