Rotkohl – German Red Cabbage

I love food traditions. Food is love and love is family and family is memories and memories are food. It’s full circle here people. Feel the love. This is one of those food is love dishes.

Rotkohl - German Red Cabbage |

One of the huge reasons I blog is to record these memories. One of my very Italian grandmothers (who cooked everything from scratch) passed away when I was in high school… long before I had the thought to document her recipes. Her Italian wedding soup, her spaghetti sauce, her spaghetti, her gnocchi, her crescent rolls, her cakes, pies, roasts, I mean, everything. From scratch. What I wouldn’t give to spend a day cooking with her now. I still remember her rough hands from all that time in the garden and in the water doing dishes. I’m talkin, the woman grew her own grapes and made her own wine (in Ohio!). You want lemonade? She’s making it herself. And they had the most un-believable garden. To have a video and/or written recipe of so many things of hers? Priceless. So here you go, future kids and grandkids and so on… family recipes? Consider them documented. Well, I’ve got a long way to go but I’m working on it!!

The Tradition

Ever since I’ve spent Thanksgivings with my husband, I’ve had this dish. When we’re not having the holiday with his family, this is the dish he requests. You know those dishes. The ones where it doesn’t feel like the holiday without them. YaknowwhatI’msayin?

Dan’s mom Angela was born in Germany and moved to the US from when she was 30. She says rotkohl is a very common German food found on most all menus in German restaurants. As for the homes, not too common a dish to make. However, HER mom always made it for those special, big occasions like Christmas, Whitsun (a 2-day holiday in Germany), and Easter. (They obviously didn’t have Thanksgiving!) It would usually stand by a duck, goose, or rabbit and some potatoes, or in her house, dumplings and gravy.

Rotkohl - German Red Cabbage |

As she started to host more holiday meals in the US, Angela would add rotkohl to the table. To her surprise, guests – including the kids – were fond of it! Dan and his sister even started to request it.

Angela originally followed the rotkohl recipe by Dr. Oetker who she equates to being sort of “the Betty Crocker of Germany”. Her mom always prepared it using duck fat as the fat in the recipe. The recipe below is the one she shared with me, the version she currently makes today.

The Dish

The main star of the dish is red cabbage, accented by green apples and onion. You start by caramelizing the onions in fat, then add cabbage and apples and simmer away with bay leaves, juniper berries, and cloves in red wine vinegar sweetened with raspberry jam. There’s that inherent warmth to the dish from the cloves, the same way cinnamon or nutmeg feel like a warm cuddly blanket… but for your insides. Then there’s that tang from the vinegar that makes the dish remind me of a sauerkraut. Yum-o.

Rotkohl - German Red Cabbage | LaughterandLemonade.comAbout the Ingredients

You can find bay leaves fresh or dried. If your grocery store has fresh, you’ll find them in the produce area where the other fresh herbs are found in those little clear plastic packages. If not, dried bay leaves are in the baking/ spice aisle. That aisle is also where you’ll find the whole cloves and juniper berries. The juniper berries are the more obscure ingredient you might not find in your regular grocery. If so, you can just omit them.

You do just toss these teeny tiny spices (referring to the cloves and juniper berries) into the big ol’ pot, leaving your guests to find the little guys as they eat. So just be aware, there’s really no good way to avoid that. There just didn’t seem to be enough liquid in the dish to use a spice ball. (If you have an idea, leave it in the comments below!) My mother-in-law states that this is just the way you do it… and no one’s broken a tooth or swallowed one yet!

The Perfect Thanksgiving Menu | LaughterandLemonade.comMake It Fit Your Diet

To make this recipe gluten free, skip adding the flour. After the cabbage has cooked (step 2) stir 2 teaspoons of corn starch into 2 tablespoons cold water. Then add the mixture to the cooked cabbage and stir well. Simmer another minute or so until the liquid thickens. (Note: It’s not meant to be super thick, but it will thicken slightly so it’s not watery.)

To make this recipe paleo, Whole30, and grain free, substitute ghee for butter and omit the flour. Choose a raspberry jam made without refined sugar or make your own raspberry chia seed jam (just replace raspberries for blueberries in this 3-ingredient recipe for Chia Seed Blueberry Jam).

This recipe is vegetarian. To make it vegan, use coconut oil (or your favorite oil) instead of butter. 

Rotkohl - German Red Cabbage |

Rotkohl - German Red Cabbage
Prep time
Cook time
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This is a traditional German red cabbage dish that's both sweet and sour. It's a light yet warm and comforting dish, perfect for meals throughout the fall and winter.
Serves: 8 servings
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 - 2½ pounds red cabbage, very thinly sliced (1 medium red cabbage)
  • 3 medium apples, peeled, cored, and diced into ½ inch cubes (I used 2 Granny smith + 1 Honeycrisp)
  • ⅓ cup raspberry jam
  • ¾ cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 bay leaves (fresh or dried)
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 4 juniper berries
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  1. Melt the butter in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat and cook the onions until caramelized and just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the flour and cook another minute. Add cabbage and cook for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients (apple through salt). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. (Add broth/water if needed if too much liquid evaporates.)
  3. Serve warm. (This dish can be made a couple days in advance and stored covered in the fridge. Reheat just before serving.)


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