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This is one cabbage dish you'll want to heap on the plate. [Photograph: Lauren Rothman]

Each and every year, as the cold winter nights grow even colder, I find myself craving the Eastern European-style dishes of my heritage: warming soups like borscht, starchy fare like kasha varnishkes, and long-cooking braises of meat and vegetables alike.

One of my favorite square meals in this category is sweet-but-funky braised cabbage and apples accompanied by tender slices of roast pork loin: they pair beautifully and, combined, are filling without being too heavy. But here's the thing about that roast pork: sometimes it's tempting to take slice after slice of it, going light on the cabbage served alongside. I think that's a shame; humble braised cabbage might not win any beauty contests, but when it's made with care and enlivened with a few key aromatics, it's actually a subtly complex side dish.

For this recipe, I decided to make the cabbage the star. Sweetened with soft apples and onions and rounded out with nutty caraway seeds, bright apple cider vinegar, a hint of sugar and fragrant fresh dill, this is one cabbage dish you'll want to heap on the plate. And instead of fussing around with a huge pork loin that can take an hour to cook, I serve the soft cabbage with fast-cooking, easy to whip up homemade pork sausage patties that are full of flavor from shallots, garlic, fennel seeds, and chile flakes, with a dash of dry sherry for added moisture. Just one and a half pounds of ground meat will serve four people, ensuring that the tender cabbage will play the main character at dinner.

About the author: Lauren Rothman once interned at Serious Eats and recently graduated from journalism school. Try the original recipes on her blog, For the Love of Food, and check out her (many) food photos on Instagram.

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