German red cabbage (Rotkohl) is an easy side dish that goes well with roasted meats. This traditional braised red cabbage recipe with apples tastes deliciously sweet and tangy. It requires only 5 minutes of prep time.
Rotkohl is one of the most famous and popular German side dishes. I grew up in Hamburg, which means I have eaten (and love) it in all its variations.
My Mama always served red cabbage with meat dishes such as roast pork or beef roll-ups (Rouladen) on Sundays. And of course, it is a must on the holiday table alongside the Christmas goose.
The gently sweet-sour flavor and the aromatic spices of this German red cabbage recipe remind me of my childhood. To me, Rotkohl is wintery, wonderful comfort food and I can't wait to share with you my authentic AND sugar free version.
Why This Recipe Works
Simple and hands-off. Rotkohl is an easy side dish that simmers away on the stove while you look after the roast meat in the oven.
Family-friendly and budget-friendly. Red cabbage is cheap to buy and it feeds a crowd.
Great for meal prep. Prepare this dish a day or two ahead and simply reheat it before serving. You can even freeze it.
Here are the ingredients you'll need for braised red cabbage:
Red cabbage - You'll need a medium cabbage head. Finely shredded, ideally with a mandoline.
Apples - I used small red apples. You'll have to core them, but there is no need to peel them. German recipes never recommend a particular type of apple for the recipe. I have used Braeburn, Gala and even Granny Smith.
Broth - I used vegetable broth to enhance the flavor. Stock cubes are fine.
Apple Cider Vinegar - Essential! This puts the German into the German red cabbage. It gives the dish the tangy sourness that complements roasted meat so well.
Sweetener - Equally important as it balances the sourness of the vinegar. Traditional Rotkohl recipes call for white sugar, but my sugar substitute of choice here is a golden erythritol monk fruit blend. It has the same caramel notes of brown sugar. However, any sugar substitute of your choice is fine. If carbs are not a concern, use coconut sugar or honey.
Seasoning: Bay leaves, cinnamon, star anise, sea salt.
See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities.
Let's make a proper German braised red cabbage recipe. It's just 3 simple steps.
Shred the cabbage finely. I remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and cut it into quarters. Then, I cut out the stalk as this cabbage part tends to be hard. The quarters can be easily handled and sliced on the mandoline.
If you don't have a mandoline, slice the cabbage very finely with a sharp knife.
Add all the ingredients except for the apples to a large saucepan. Put on a lid and bring to a boil over medium heat. Then, reduce the heat to low and simmer until soft.
Add the apples and stir. Continue to braise the mixture to allow them to soften as well. Taste and adjust seasoning if required.
Katrin's Expert Tips
Use a glove. Seriously! If you cut the cabbage with a mandoline, a kitchen glove is essential. Mandolines are super sharp and you don't want to cut your fingers.
Simmer on low heat. You don't want to let all the liquid evaporate until the dish is done. Check and add a little extra broth if required towards the end of cooking.
Apple slices size. I sliced the apples instead of cubing them. This way, the people in my family who watch their sugar levels can omit them if they choose. In traditional German recipes, the apples are chopped finely and most likely you won't even see them.
Here are some ideas on how you can tweak Rotkraut:
Juniper berries - These berries are a popular ingredient in German recipes. They have an aromatic flavor that is both fruity and peppery. Add ½ teaspoon at the beginning of cooking. If you use juniper berries, you can omit the star anise.
Cloves - You can use either 2 cloves, which you remove after cooking, or add a pinch of ground cloves. Cloves have a strong, pungent flavor and I don't always feel like adding them. However, they do go very well with red cabbage.
Onions: Yellow onions or shallots taste great in red cabbage. Finely dice one onion and fry it in a little oil over low heat until it is translucent and soft. This takes about 10 minutes. Then, proceed with the recipe.
Jelly or jam: This is another popular addition to German red cabbage. My Oma always added a tablespoon of red currant jam to her Rotkohl. I sometimes add a spoonful of sugar free cranberry sauce to increase the fruitiness.
Apple cider or apple juice: Traditional recipes often add apple cider or apple juice to Rotkohl. We are achieving the same balance of sweet and sour with the combination of apple cider vinegar and sweetener.
Braised red cabbage should be soft, but not mushy. Some people like their Rotkohl with more texture than others. However, it should never be crunchy or taste like slaw.
Yes. You can leave out the apples to lower the sugar content of the Rotkohl. By omitting the apple the net carbs reduce from 9g to 5.5 grams per serving.
Apple cider vinegar is milder than white wine vinegar or any other vinegar. If you want to another vinegar, you may need to use less.
German red cabbage is the perfect pairing for meat dishes:
- Beef - German Rouladen or beef roll-ups are traditionally served with Rotkohl and potatoes or Knoedel (potato dumplings). Sliced roast beef also tastes good with it.
- Pork - Roasted pork pairs well with red cabbage.
- Venison - Venison ragout is a classic German dish that is eaten with Spätzle, cranberry sauce and red cabbage.
- Duck - Is often served with orange sauce and red cabbage.
- Goose - This is the ultimate festive meal. We always ate goose on Christmas Day at home, with red cabbage, green cabbage and all the other trimmings. I now make turkey instead, but Rotkohl is always one of the sides!
- Chicken, Fish or Sausages - These are not traditionally served with Rotkohl in Germany. A traditional side for sausages is Sauerkraut, although rustic sausages do taste great with red cabbage as well.
Storage and Meal Prep
Meal prep: As mentioned above, German red cabbage can be prepared 1-2 days ahead. Then, gently reheat it on the stovetop or in the microwave just before serving.
Storage: Store this dish in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Or, freeze it for up to 3 months.
Scaling the recipe: You can easily double or triple the recipe. Just use a larger, heavy-bottomed pot. The cooking time remains the same.
Braised red cabbage is called Rotkohl in Northern Germany and in Southern Germany, it is called Blaukraut. "Blau" means blue in German (and "kraut" is, of course, the short form of Sauerkraut).
So, why was the red cabbage blue in Bavaria?
The reason for the colour difference was the soil the cabbage was grown in. Before the advent of modern farming, the North German soil was more sour. This turned the cabbage red rather than the blue colour it had in the south.
You can emulate the same process at home. If you add more vinegar to the cabbage, it will go redder. If you add more sugar and a pinch of baking soda, it becomes blue.
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German Red Cabbage Recipefrom Sugar Free Londoner
Note: The servings slider only changes the first amount in each line and not any subsequent amounts. Please make your own calculations where necessary.
- 1 heavy-bottomed saucepan with lid
- 1 medium red cabbage finely shredded, 800g / 1.75lb
- 7 oz vegetable broth 200ml / generous ¾ cup.
- ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar 80ml
- 3 tablespoon golden monk fruit sweetener or any 1:1 sugar substitute of choice
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 star anise whole
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 small red apples cored and cut into wedges, or 2 cups chopped
- sea salt to taste
- Prep the cabbage: Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and cut it into quarters. Then, cut out the stem at the bottom. Shred the cabbage finely with a mandoline. Or, slice the cabbage very finely with a sharp knife.
- Add all the ingredients except for the apples to a large saucepan. Put on a lid and bring to a boil over medium heat. Then, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Core the apples, then slice or chop them. Fold the apples into the red cabbage. Braise for a further 15 minutes over low heat or until all liquid has evaporated and both the cabbage and the apples are soft.
- Adjust the seasoning to taste and serve.