When I was young, my Austrian grandmother would make us stewed red cabbage with apple on cold winter days. I loved the jewel-like color of the dish and the sweetness. My sister once told me she had taken down the recipe from my grandmother, but when I asked her for it at Christmas she didn't remember ever having made it. So either I have an over-active imagination or she has a faulty memory, but the result is the same: we have lost the original recipe. Unfortunately, I had already picked up a head of cabbage when I found out we no longer have the recipe. And so I turned, as one does in this day and age, to the Internet. I found a lot of red-cabbage-and-apple dishes, but by the end of the search I was no longer interested in such a mundane recipe. The soup I came up with came from ideas gleaned all over the web, including this site; when one of the recipes called for caraway seeds, I remembered Barrett's brilliant pairing of cumin and cabbage and used that instead. The end result was perfect for a blustery winter day: warming and healthy and full of punchy flavors, with a beautiful purple sheen to warm the heart.
A note on the photo: I took this the first night I served the soup to the Critic, before I had the bright idea of adding fresh apple and goat's cheese to the garnish list. So if you read through the recipe and wonder why you don't see them, it's because the photo I took the next day at lunch wasn't as pretty, even if it did include all the ingredients. I take so many unsatisfactory photos that I just couldn't resist using the prettier one!
This is a wonderful winter soup, if only because it uses one of the few vegetables in season to have some color. Red cabbage is also sweeter than many other brassicas and so is more appealing to picky eaters like the Critic. I could tell that this was a dish he would never willingly order in a restaurant, but he finished his bowl and liked it. Unfortunately, he wasn't around to try the final version with goat's cheese, but I'm sure he would have liked it even better, as I did! The sharpness of the cheese offset the slightly sweet and spicy soup perfectly, adding a whole new layer of flavor.
The list of ingredients for this soup is fairly short and the cooking time too, making it a perfect dish for a busy cook!
Red Cabbage and Cumin Soup (makes 4 bowls)
1 small head of red cabbage (about 400g)
2 apples, one reserved
3 Tbs butter
4 Tbs cumin, 1 Tbs reserved
8-10 roasted chestnuts (vacuum packed chestnuts can be substituted, but will have more flavor and texture if they are toasted in a hot oven for a few minutes)
1 crottin de chevre, or about 60 g goat's cheese
500 ml turkey or chicken stock
1 glass of white wine
1 glug of Pommeau (optional)
salt and pepper
Melt the butter in the bottom of a heavy soup pan. Chop the onion roughly and add to the butter. While the onion is softening, peel, core and chop one of the apples. Add it to the mixture and continue cooking until the apple is soft. Cut the cabbage in two and carve out the hard core. Slice the rest of the cabbage finely and add it to the apple and onion mixture. Cook for five minutes. With a mortar and pestle, crush 3 Tbs of the cumin and add to the pan. Turn up the heat slightly and add the wine. When it has reduced by half and any brown bits have been scraped from the bottom of the pan, add the broth. Simmer for half an hour, or until the cabbage is completely limp and cooked through. Use a stick blender or a food processor to reduce the soup to a glossy smooth consistency. Taste for seasoning; depending on your stock, you may need a good pinch of salt.
Just before serving, peel, core and cube the apple, crumble the cheese and break up the chestnuts. Crush the remaining cumin with the mortar and pestle. Stir the pommeau (if any) into the soup and garnish with apple, cheese, chestnuts and cumin.