German red cabbage, also known as Rotkohl, Rotkraut, or Blaukraut depending on the region, is a flavorful braised cabbage side dish that's easy to make from scratch! Today we're preparing Rotkohl in the slow cooker. The result is a wonderfully aromatic and tender red cabbage with apples, spices, and the signature sweet-and-sour flavor that pairs well with so many dishes.
Don't have a slow cooker? No problem! See the recipe notes for easy stovetop instructions.
Why You'll Love It
If you've never tried German red cabbage before, you are definitely in for a treat! The balance of sweet and savory, with hints of warm cloves and tart apple, plus the zip of vinegar make German red cabbage one of the most interesting and satisfying ways to prepare this vibrantly-colored veggie.
And though it's easy enough to prepare on the stovetop, the slow cooker enhances the flavors even more. Rotkohl an excellent dish for potlucks, cookouts, and weekly meal prep.
Enjoy the sweet and sour cabbage as a side dish throughout the week, or pile it on top of sandwiches and salads. Rotkohl has a way of making any meal more exciting.
- red cabbage: Red cabbage is the star of the dish, obviously! Its beautiful purple color takes on a pinkish, magenta hue during cooking and the texture becomes perfectly tender.
- apples: Any variety of apple is fine, although I like to use one that's firm and crisp as opposed to soft and mealy. Granny Smith, Gala, Honeycrisp, and Fuji are all good options. The apples add a natural sweetness and a hint of tartness, contributing to the signature sweet-and-sour taste.
- onion: Though onion might seem like an odd pairing with apples, the savory notes bring balance and complement the flavors. Sometimes I like to use shallots instead, similar to the ingredients in this Apple Cider Tofu.
- brown sugar: A touch of sweetener is key and creates the perfect sweet-and-sour balance that characterizes German red cabbage. Feel free to use another granulated sugar or even agave or maple syrup if that's what you have on hand.
- spices: Ground cloves brings warmth and give the dish a lovely aroma. Around Christmas-time I like to increase the amount slightly and add a few dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg, too. Feel free to make the dish as spiced as you like!
- vinegar: I usually choose red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar, but other vinegars are fine, too. Feel free to adjust the amount to suit your tastes.
See the recipe card below for quantities and full instructions.
Preparing Rotkohl in the slow cooker couldn't be easier!
I like to preheat the slow cooker on high while I'm chopping the onion, cabbage, and apple. Next, add the butter, if using, followed by the cabbage and onion. Give everything a good stir to distribute the butter throughout.
Add the remaining ingredients - chopped apple, cloves, brown sugar, water, vinegar, salt and pepper - and stir to combine.
Cover and cook on high for 3 hours or low for 5 hours, stirring several times during cooking. When the timer goes off, check the tenderness of the cabbage and taste for seasoning.
If it needs more time, cover and cook on high for another 20 to 30 minutes or until the cabbage is as tender as you like.
Hint: The flavors develop so well in the slow cooker and get even better overnight!
Traditionally, the sweetness and acidity of rotkohl serves as a contrast to heavy meat dishes such as roasts, sausages, and schnitzel.
Since we're vegan, I recommend pairing the red cabbage and apple dish with your favorite vegan meat options, such as seitan roast, breaded tofu schnitzel, seitan sausages, or Beyond Meat's Bratwurst, for example.
Beyond the more traditional pairings, rotkohl is delicious on sandwiches. You can also mix it into salads, rice, and grain bowls for extra flavor, color, and nutrition.
Variations and Substitutions
- vinegar - If you don't have red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar, feel free to improvise. I've also made rotkohl with white wine vinegar, which was just as delicious. Some recipes even call for distilled white vinegar, which adds even more punch!
- sweetener - Instead of light or dark brown sugar, feel free to use regular granulated sugar, coconut or date sugar, or maple syrup.
- cloves - Instead of ground cloves, you may prefer to use whole cloves. But be sure to place them inside a tea basket or tied up in a small pouch of cheese cloth so they're easy to find and remove before serving.
- other spices - In addition to cloves, sometimes I like to add a few dashes of nutmeg and cinnamon. You can also experiment with juniper berries, allspice, caraway seeds, and star anise. The additional spices are especially nice for Christmas and throughout the holiday season.
- red wine or apple juice - Instead of water, try red wine, apple juice or apple cider.
I use a 6-quart Crock Pot but any comparable slow cooker is perfect. Or for stovetop preparation, you'll need a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a lid.
Yes, this dish actually tastes better as the flavors meld. Prepare it a day in advance, refrigerate, and reheat before serving.
Absolutely! While the slow cooker method is easy and enhances the flavors, you can also prepare Rotkohl on the stovetop or in a Dutch oven. If you're short on time, the stovetop method is quickest. After sauteing the onion for a few minutes, add the cabbage and spices, followed by the remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook over low heat until tender, about 40 minutes.
Yes, if green cabbage is what you have on hand, feel free to use it instead.
German red cabbage is served warm, and reheating the leftovers is very easy on the stovetop. Admittedly, I often sneak a bite straight from the fridge!
If using the high setting on your slow cooker, don't leave it unattended. Check on the cabbage and stir it once or twice during the last hour to make sure it doesn't burn around the edges.
I hope you enjoy the vibrant flavors of this slow cooker red cabbage as much as we do. If you try the recipe be sure to comment below and let us know!
Slow Cooker Rotkohl (German Red Cabbage)
- 2 tablespoons vegan butter, optional
- 1 small red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced - 1.75 to 2 lbs
- 1 medium onion, chopped - I like red or yellow onion or shallot
- 2 medium apples, cored and chopped - any firm/crisp variety, sweet or tart
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar - light or dark
- 1½ teaspoons fine sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- Turn the slow cooker on high and let it warm up. Add the butter, if using, and use a large spoon to break it up and spread it around.
- Add the cabbage and onion, and stir to mix with the butter. Add the apple, sugar, salt, cloves, black pepper, water, and vinegar. Stir to combine.
- Place the lid on the slow cooker, and cook on high for 3 hours or low for 5 hours, stirring several times during cooking.
- When the timer goes off, stir again and check the tenderness of the cabbage. Taste for seasoning and add more vinegar, salt or sugar, if desired. Cover and cook on high for another 20 to 30 minutes or until the cabbage is as soft as you like. Serve warm.
- Other spices - In addition to cloves, sometimes we add a few dashes of nutmeg and cinnamon. You can also experiment with juniper berries, allspice, caraway seeds, and star anise. The additional spices are especially nice at Christmas and throughout the holiday season.
- Red wine or apple juice - Instead of water, try red wine, apple juice or apple cider.
Estimated Nutrition (per serving)
Nutrition information is an estimate and will vary depending on the exact amounts and specific products and ingredients used. We calculate this information using the online calculator cronometer.com.
A Personal Note
Growing up in Huntsville, Alabama, the presence of authentic German restaurants was something I took for granted. Dining at Ol' Heidelberg or at the somewhat-secret German restaurant on Redstone Arsenal was just part of life in Huntsville.
Decades later, I realize how unique my hometown was, and still is, and that the influence of German culture is unusual for a city in North Alabama.
It happened because of the burgeoning space program in the early 1950s, when 118 German scientists and engineers migrated to Huntsville.
In the 60s, my father joined the program as an aerospace engineer at NASA.
Anyway, since I'm vegan now, I haven't gotten around to re-creating my favorite childhood meal of chicken schnitzel cordon bleu with a side of German potato salad. But preparing a vegan version of German red cabbage is a breeze! I hope you enjoy this slow cooker Rotkohl as much as we do.