Our braised cabbage recipe with bacon makes a rich savoury side to almost any main course. My baboushka served this traditional Russian-Ukrainian side dish with meatballs, chicken cutlets, pork chops, and roast chicken, and used it to fill Ukrainian-style varenyky. Easy to make, it comes together quickly, though the lower and slower you cook it, the richer it tastes.
This braised cabbage recipe with bacon is one of my favourite cabbage recipes – and as regular readers know, I adore my cabbage dishes. It will make you an incredibly rich and delicious savoury side dish that is a splendid accompaniment to so many mains.
My baboushka typically served this traditional Russian-Ukrainian dish as one of an array of plates that were shared family-style for Sunday lunches and holiday feasts and at a bare minimum included piroshki (hand pies), beetroot and potato salad, a classic garden salad and casserole pots of Russian pelmeni and potato vareniki.
This braised cabbage and bacon dish was an alternative to stuffed cabbage rolls, as you can only have so much cabbage in one sitting. It also served as a side to dishes such as kotleti (chicken meat patties), chicken Kiev, beef Stroganoff, Russian meatballs, lamb or pork chops, or roast chicken.
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Now let me tell you more about this braised cabbage recipe with bacon for a rich savoury side to almost any main course.
Braised Cabbage Recipe with Bacon for a Rich Savoury Side Dish to Almost Any Main
This braised cabbage recipe with bacon makes one of my favourite cabbage dishes growing up as a kid in the western suburbs of Sydney. And that’s saying something, as we ate a lot of cabbage.
My baboushka used cabbage in borscht and shchi, in cabbage rolls, in coleslaw, and in sauerkraut, which baba and papa made themselves and stored in enormous jars under the house, with papa’s homemade vodka.
My mother and father cooked all kinds of cuisines, as was the fashion in the 1970s, when Australia’s increasingly cosmopolitan home-cooks tried their hand at everything from French and Italian to Chinese and Lebanese.
Mum made many of baba’s dishes at home – but often with her own twist. I then added my own tweaks over the years so sometimes I wonder how far removed my dishes are from the original traditional dishes from Russia and Ukraine.
When further researching this braised cabbage recipe with bacon, for instance, I noted that a lot of the braised cabbage dishes look a very unappetising pale yellow – almost insipid.
By contrast, my mother’s and grandmother’s braised cabbage was always a tantalisingly glossy dark orange-brown and it tasted as delicious as it looked.
My mother and grandmother’s braised cabbage had a depth of flavour and richness that probably competed too much with all of the other amazingly delicious dishes spread across the dining table.
But there was always a plate of tangy homemade dill pickles to cut through the richness and a fresh garden salad to lighten things up. Plus we didn’t eat this kind of food every day.
I did occasionally wonder why we ate so much cabbage and then I learnt that Russia has one of the highest annual per capita consumption of cabbage, with only a few countries ahead of Russia. One of those was Ukraine, where cabbage-lovers ate 39 kilos of cabbage per person a year.
As my grandparents were Russians born in the Ukraine in the early 1900s during the Russian Empire, and the food they cooked and ate would probably have been called Russian-Ukrainian these days, that explained a lot. Although I’m sure I eat a lot more than 39 kilos a year. Just a few tips to making this braised cabbage recipe with bacon.
Tips to Making This Russian Braised Cabbage Recipe with Bacon
I only have a few tips to making this braised cabbage recipe with bacon because, while it’s a tad time-consuming if you want to achieve the same silky texture, depth of flavour and richness of my braised cabbage in the photos, it’s actually a really straightforward recipe.
You could just use white cabbage, however, I’ve also used purple cabbage for flavour and colour – the ‘purple’ cabbage leaves are the darkest bits you see in the images.
Use a mandoline for shredding the cabbage if you have one, otherwise your sharpest knife will do the trick. Salting the cabbage first will soften it faster. If you’re concerned about the amount of salt, skip this stage, however, note that it will take you a little longer to cook to reach the texture and tenderness pictured.
I’ve used tomato paste to add more richness, however, a deeply flavour tomato sauce or tomato ketchup would work, too. I’ve also added the remnants of canned tomatoes we might have had leftover in the fridge before.
I know not everyone loves spice as much as we do, so by all means go for the standard paprika and skip the ground cumin and allspice, however, they really do add that depth of flavour that makes this taste so delicious. Add just a smidgen if you’re concerned.
For me, Russian food isn’t Russian food without fresh dill, but Terence is not a dill-lover, so I get it. By all means skip that step. That’s one of my tweaks to this braised cabbage recipe, which makes it special for me.
Braised Cabbage Recipe with Bacon for a Rich Savoury Side Dish to Almost Any Main
- 300 g white cabbage shredded
- 300 g purple cabbage shredded
- 2 tsp of salt
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large brown onion diced
- 1 large carrot grated
- 4 smoky bacon rashers sliced into small strips
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp ground sweet paprika
- ½ tsp ground allspice
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp fresh dill roughly chopped
- Transfer the shredded cabbage to a large mixing bowl and sprinkle a teaspoon of salt over it, combine it with clean hands, then set it aside.
- In a large round flat-bottomed wok, frying pan or skillet over medium heat, heat two tablespoons of olive oil, then fried the diced onion for a few minutes until soft, add the grated carrot, combine and fry for a few minutes more, stirring occasionally so they don’t stick and burn.
- When the onion is translucent and fragrant, transfer the onion and carrot to the same bowl as the cabbage and combine, and set aside.
- Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the wok, frying pan or skillet, and fry the bacon strips until cooked, then turn the heat down to low.
- Add the tomato paste, another teaspoon of salt, the white pepper, sugar, paprika, allspice, cumin, and bay leaves to the fried bacon, and combine well, then add another tablespoon of olive oil, then the cabbage, onion and carrot, and combine well.
- Increase the heat to medium and stir frequently until the white cabbage starts to brown. If needed, add a little water, stir to combine, then reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid, and allow to braise for 30 minutes or so, monitoring and stirring occasionally until the cabbage is tender.
- Remove the lid, taste, and adjust the seasoning to suit your palate, then continue to cook for another 10 minutes or so with the lid off until any liquid has reduced, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t stick and burn, until the braised cabbage is soft, rich and aromatic.
- When it’s ready remove from the heat, stir in a tablespoon of chopped fresh dill, and transfer to a serving bowl. If you have other dishes to prepare, you can keep it warm in a lidded casserole dish in the oven or set aside to cool, refrigerate, and re-heat later. It will taste fantastic for a few days.
Please do let us know if you make this braised cabbage recipe with bacon in the comments below, as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.