Sauteed cabbage with peppers is the ultimate Russian dish: affordable, comforting, delicious, an Eastern European dish with real flavour pedigree.
- Sauteed cabbage with peppers is the ultimate Russian dish: affordable, comforting, delicious, an Eastern European dish with real flavour pedigree.
- An easy weeknight meal
- How to cut cabbage
- How to saute cabbage without oil?
- My family's pre-dinner rituals
- How to sautee cabbage leaves
- What does sauteed cabbage taste like?
- What spices go with sauteed cabbage?
- What to have with sauteed cabbage?
- Adaptations and substitutions
An easy weeknight meal
As I return home after a long day, my mother is standing at the kitchen counter, chopping vegetables. She greets me enthusiastically, asking how my day was.
As she comes over to give me a hug, her leopard-print robe is falling off her shoulder, revealing a homely pyjamas underneath.
Her hair is up in a messy bun and her make-up isn't fully off yet, but the smudging is already visible.
She smiles at me, the gap between her teeth showing.
The smell of fried onions and freshly cut tomatoes is in the air. As I peek at the cutting board, I see she is chopping a full head of white cabbage, following my grandfather's signature technique. (if you have red cabbage on hand, I recommend this recipe).
And I just know: tonight, we're having my mother's easy sauteed cabbage, the one dish to get right.
How to cut cabbage
My grandfather's method for cutting cabbage goes like this:
Cut the head in half, remove the core, and hold one half firmly in place, cut-side down. Move your knife around it, slicing thin strips of cabbage off the sides, not moving the head until you get to the last little nob. The cabbage is quickly reduced to a pile of shreds.
But if you're my mother, she just barely avoids cutting off her finger with the dull knife.
How to saute cabbage without oil?
The secret is in the sauce. My family doesn't use oil when sauteing cabbage; instead, we slowly let onions start to cook on low heat, stirring the pan often. Once we add in the cabbage and cover with a lid, it produces enough natural moisture to stew the cabbage.
So, about that sauce.
In my mother's pan, onions and red peppers are browning. Their once-firm forms are now lazily strewn across the non-stick surface, crisping at the edges. I give them a toss, allowing more peppers to come into contact with the heat of the pan.
My mother adds the cabbage to the pile, giving everything a good stir.
The pan is then covered with an ill-fitting lid that belongs to a long-lost and forgotten pot. Our pot drawer is an orphanage for abandoned cookware of all shapes, sizes and pedigrees.
Some enamel pans date back to the Soviet Union, and though nothing ever cooks in them, we still hold on, refusing to throw the dented memories away.
My family's pre-dinner rituals
We sit down at the little kitchen island.
My dad makes me a cocktail, and I am privy to whatever strange concoction he is working on this week. Bitter grapefruit mixes with blue carcao, and I wonder for the umpteenth time if he gets his recipes from the Risky Business bartender's book.
We chat about this and that; my graduate studies are of some interest to them, but I avoid going into too much detail. The nuances of political theory and international affairs usually lead to arguments at our dinner table, and I would like to preserve the peace at this rare time that we all sit together.
Time floats by as we nibble on cheese and olives.
My mother adds tomatoes to the pan.
After a few minutes, the sauteed cabbage is done. We reheat leftover potatoes and rice in the microwave, and I rush to remove them at the last second in order to avoid the machine's ear-splitting beep.
We ladle strands of sauteed cabbage smothered in smoky tomato and pepper sauce into our bowls, cooked into submission by the heat of the gas flame.
- Bell peppers of your preferred color
- Small head of cabbage
- Tomatoes or tomato paste
- Dried oregano or fresh basil
- Chilli flakes
- Vinegar - white wine, apple cider or regular
- Salt & pepper
- Sugar (optional)
- Chopped parsley, cilantro, or chives, to taste (optional)
How to sautee cabbage leaves
My family's method for sauteeing cabbage leaves is simple: slow building up of flavor, a low flame and a long cooking process. No matter how thinly you cut your cabbage, even if it's not perfect, you'll end up with silky, soft cabbage leaves.Slice onions and peppers into thin strips.
You start by sautéing onions on medium heat for 5 mins, until they become translucent. Add bell peppers, and sauté another 10 mins. You can use any color of sweet bell peppers here.
Chop garlic coarsely. Add to pan, sauté for 1 minute.
For the best sauteed cabbage, I recommend to slice the cabbage head into thin strips (see above for my grandfather's method). But even if your strands aren't so thin, as long as you follow the rest of the instructions you'll end up with delicious stewed cabbage!
Add the cabbage to pan, stir to mix with other ingredients, cover with lid, and sauté on medium heat for 15 minutes. Every 5 minutes or so, check that the cabbage and peppers aren't sticking to the bottom, and give the pan a good stir.
If using fresh tomatoes, chop them finely and let them cook without adding the spices for 10 minutes on medium heat. Then add spices and cook for another 5 mins. If using tomato paste, add spices along with paste and let cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
Taste, and adjust flavours as necessary. That's it - you've sauteed cabbage, a great and easy side dish!
What does sauteed cabbage taste like?
My Russian sauteed cabbage is cooked in a smoky onion, tomato and pepper sauce, until it is silky, glistening and melting in your mouth.
The dominant flavors here are tomato and peppers.
The cabbage becomes so soft it almost falls apart in your mouth - it really is the best way I know for cooking cabbage!
What spices go with sauteed cabbage?
If you'd like to add additional spices or seasonings to your sauteed cabbage, I recommend whole cumin seeds, smoked paprika, caraway seeds (they taste a bit licoricy) or cayenne peppers.
What to have with sauteed cabbage?
Mashed potatoes, white or brown rice, or even a good piece of crusty wholegrain bread all go well with sauteed cabbage.
I also recommend these Russian dishes with sauteed cabbage:
When we are done eating our cabbage with peppers, my father replenishes our cocktails.
We continue sitting there, eating languidly. It's a dimly lit kitchen island in the middle of a crowded home. The table is laden with cheese, bread, packaged salads, chocolate, nuts, pills and yesterday's mail.
My mother and father are laughing, sharing stories over plates of brown rice and cooked potatoes, covered in silky, sauteed cabbage.
The stovetop is splattered, and the smell of a home-cooked meal is in the air.
Adaptations and substitutions
Russian sauteed cabbage with peppers is naturally gluten-free, grain-free and vegan.
You can make it paleo and keto by omitting the tablespoon of sugar.
If you are not a fan of bell peppers, you can omit them. My mother even makes this recipe without tomatoes or tomato paste sometimes!
Yes! The principle of cooking cabbage on a slow heat is wonderful for extracting flavor from it. Russian cabbage is cooked without oil and with an addition of onion, garlic, tomatoes and peppers for flavor, but you can even skip the tomatoes and peppers if you'd like.
Yes - sauteed cabbage is very healthy cooked without oil. You can rely on good, healthy ingredients and a long cooking process. I do add one tablespoon of sugar, but feel free to skip it.
Yes, in the microwave or in a pan.
I do not recommend that. Cabbage changes its texture once frozen and defrosted. However, you can make this recipe up to 4 days in advance, and keep it in a sealed container in the fridge.
Sauteed cabbage with peppers, or the one dish to get right
- Non-stick pan
- 1-2 onions
- 1-2 bell peppers red, yellow or orange
- 1 cabbage thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 can tomato paste or 4-5 tomatoes, in season.
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano or basil if using fresh, use 2 Tbs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon chili flakes or more, to taste
- 1 Tb sugar optional
- 1 Tb vinegar white wine, apple cider. or regular
- Chopped parsley, cilantro, or chives, to taste (optional)
- Slice onions and peppers into thin strips.
- Sauté onions on low-medium heat for 5-10 mins, until they become translucent. Add peppers, sauté another 10 mins, until pepper strips and onions start to caramelize, stirring occasionally.
- Chop garlic coarsely. Add to pan, sauté for 1 minute.
- Chop cabbage head into thin strips. Add to pan, stir to mix with other ingredients, cover with lid, and sauté on medium heat for 15 minutes. Every 5 minutes or so, check that the cabbage and peppers aren't sticking to the bottom, and give the pan a good stir.
- If using fresh tomatoes, chop them finely and let them cook without adding the spices for 10 minutes on medium heat. Then add spices and cook for another 5 mins. If using tomato paste, add spices along with paste and let cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
- Taste, and adjust flavours as necessary.