Christmas red cabbage

When it comes to Christmas dinner in our house – or any roast dinner – it’s the veggies that are the star of the show. We have loads! Sometimes there’s too many dishes to fit on the table, but it’s worth the chaos – and the washing up 😉

Braised red cabbage has been a firm family favourite for a long time. I mean, what’s not to like? Yummy cabbage, sweet apple and seasonal herbs – and it’s red too! My ‘Comforting Red Cabbage’ recipe can be found in my book Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie (click here to find out more about my book). But at Christmas, I like to add different seasonal flavours to make it even more special with warming cinnamon and star anise spicing it up, cranberries as the sweetness and orange juice for a citrus zing.

Fun fact about red cabbage – it has a different hue depending on the acidity of the soil it’s grown in. The more acidic the soil, the redder the leaves. A neutral soil and the leaves are more purple. And alkaline soil leads to bluey-green leaves. Clever, huh?

You may recollect a science experiment at school using red cabbage juice to tell the pH of a substance using red cabbage juice. The neutral juice is purple; add the substance and the fluid will turn red if acidic and blue if alkaline. If you fancy doing some science at home, here’s an article to guide you.

It’s the anthocyanins in the red cabbage leaves which allow the magic to happen. These tiny pigments are part of the flavonoid group of phytonutrients, strong anti-oxidants that help quash free radicals from causing damage and thereby supporting our health. It’s these anti-inflammatory effects that make eating red cabbage on a regular basis a very good idea!

Something else to think about how red cabbage changes colour is that once cooked, it tends to loose a lot of the water-soluble pigments and become more of a muted blue. To retain the vibrant red/purple hue, add something acidic like citrus juice or vinegar.

One downside with the strong pigments in red cabbage is that it can stain certain types of pans, especially ones with a porous lining. I say this from bitter experience as my lovely Le Crueset enamelled cast iron pan never quite recovered from its first introduction to braised red cabbage :(. A good stainless steel saucepan is much more advisable. Le Crueset also make excellent ones (you can find them here) which I highly recommend, although if you are struggling with arm strength, then they are quite heavy. That’s the downside.  The plus side is they never stain and always come out sparkling like new. They are also quite expensive, but you will never need to buy a set of pans again, so worth it in the long run.

I’ve used orange juice for the acidic twist in this recipe. If you can tolerate it, red wine vinegar is a good alternative. Find a big, juicy orange and squeeze the fresh juice and include any pulp that comes out with it. Alternatively, bought orange juice will do, but try to avoid those made from concentrate if you can.

You’ll notice I’ve used whole spices here, but if you don’t have them, sub with dried ground spice instead. And feel free to sway with mace and/or all spice if you prefer.

One of the other excellent things about this recipe is that the flavours develop if you make it in advance, which is very handy if you’ve got a lot going on in the kitchen and want to get some things ready in advance. It also freezes well, enabling you to be super organised.

I hope you enjoy this delicious Christmas red cabbage recipe. Do let me know if you give a go. Enjoy the dazzle on your dining table!

Christmas red cabbage

A delicious side dish flavoured with seasonal spices and orange.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Course Side Dish
Servings 8 portions


  • large stainless steel pan


  • 1 medium red onion peeled and sliced
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 medium apple cored and cut into thin slices
  • 1 fat clove of garlic peeled, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 medium red cabbage quartered, hearts removed and thinly sliced
  • 1 large orange juice and any pulp you can rescue (approx 100mls)
  • 2 tbsp dried cranberries
  • salt and pepper to taste


  • Heat a couple of tablespoons in the base of the pan over a medium heat. Add the sliced red onion with a pinch of salt and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. You may need a little more water to stop it sticking.
  • Pop the whole spices in the pan and cook for a couple of minutes until they release their gorgeous aroma.
  • Add the apple and sliced garlic and cook for another 2 minutes before stirring in the red cabbage. Mix everything together well, then pour in the orange juice.
  • Pop on the lid and cook on a low heat for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time.
  • Add the dried cranberries to the pan and continue to simmer for another 20 minutes.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Remove the whole spices before serving.


This cabbage dish can be made a day in advance and reheated before serving. It also freezes well.
Keyword anti-inflammatory diet, Christmas recipe, red cabbage

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