The best cabbage side dish is one that acts as a complement to the food serving as the main course. Cabbage is a versatile vegetable that can have a strong and unique taste that might not complement all foods. Classic combinations such as cabbage and corned beef often involve cooking the cabbage with the meat so the flavors meld and the greens become very soft. Other preparations, such as cole slaw, are frequently eaten with barbecued foods. A more distinct cabbage side dish for Asian recipes would be kimchi.
A popular type of cabbage side dish involves marinating the cabbage so it takes on a sharp flavor. These side dishes have a clean, crisp flavor because the cabbage is usually raw, and the entire mixture is often refrigerated. Cole slaw is a classic example of this style of side dish. These could be the best choice for heavily spiced foods, especially barbecue or meats with a sweet glaze, because the acidity of the marinade will cut through dense flavors. The crunch of the fresh cabbage also can add texture to a tender main course.
Pickled or fermented cabbage is another common way to prepare a cabbage side dish. Examples of this type of side dish are sauerkraut and kimchi. Both involve putting cabbage in a liquid and allowing it to age for some period of time to develop flavor. Sauerkraut has a very tart flavor that is usually paired with cooked sausages or brautwurst. Kimchi can be a good choice for salty Asian pork preparations, because the strong fermented flavor can help balance spiced meats, although the strength of the cabbage flavor can be mitigated by cooking the kimchi with the meat.
In many countries, cabbage is boiled in water to make it tender or to blend its flavor with some other ingredients. Some recipes call for the cabbage to be placed in water, sometimes with potatoes, sometimes with a piece of meat such as corned beef. This makes the cabbage moist and soft while also allowing it to absorb some of the flavors of what it is being cooked in. This preparation can be good for dishes that are cooked long and slow in an oven, such as roast.
One final type of cabbage side dish involves frying the cabbage, which is usually diced or cut into strips. This style of side dish starts with some fat, such as butter, margarine or bacon drippings, and then adds the cabbage. The cabbage can be cooked over high heat for only a few seconds or slowly over time to make it tender. Some cabbage side dish recipes call for the vegetable to stop being cooked while still crisp. When flavored to taste, this side dish becomes very versatile and can be a good choice to be served with nearly any type of meat, especially roasted chicken; it also can be a unique addition to a fresh salad.