Don't underrate coleslaw. This unassuming side-dish, despite its mundane reputation, has a lot going for it:
- Ease and speed of preparation
- Infinite variability
- Satisfying crunchiness
- Healthy benefits
I started making coleslaw about a year ago, when I needed a salad — something green and fresh! — to go with a meal that was a little heavy on the starch/protein components. But I was out of lettuce. And cucumber. And tomatoes. But I did find hidden in the veggie drawer of my fridge part of a head of cabbage leftover from who knows what. So I sliced it into fine shreds, added some oil, some vinegar, and some seasonings, and, voilà! My first homemade coleslaw.
Since then, I've returned to the blank canvas of a head of cabbage over and over to create quick salads to go with all kinds of meals. Depending on your mood and on what's in your pantry, you can make it sweet or sour, rich or light, simple or complex. Raw cabbage has a delicate taste that combines well with just about any other ingredients. Here are some ideas to get you started, then I'll give you a recipe for a coleslaw I made a couple of days ago:
- olive oil with or w/o vinegar
- lemon juice or vinegar
- just wilted with salt
- creme fraiche or sour cream
- fresh or dried fruit
- nuts, pignoli
- fresh or dried herbs
- grated or chopped veggies like carrots, radishes, beets
- onions and/or garlic
- cheese (grated Parmesan, crumbled bleu, or any kind, really. who doesn't love cheese?)
- mustard seeds popped in oil (like the chaunk I described in an earlier post)
Last week, I concocted an impromptu mish-mash of various leftovers that turned out to be scrumptious, but the off-hand preparation of which left me feeling guilty, like I wasn't doing enough as the primary chef in my household. (Of course, it takes a seasoned seasoner to know what leftovers can be tossed together successfully! But something had pushed my guilt button — and I'm not even Jewish or Catholic.)
There is no way in the world that you (or I) will ever end up with the exact combination of ingredients I threw together, but I'll tell you about it anyway, so you can begin to understand how my weird brain works. I had a little of the beef soup with rice I'd made earlier in the week left, to which I added some leftover cooked vegetables from one of Peter's mélanges. To this, I added a serving of basmati rice and an order of sambar left over from a dinner we'd ordered in from my favorite South-Indian restaurant. (Sambar is a spicy, soup-like dish with vegetables and dal that accompanies most meals in parts of Southern India. I am going to make my own one of these days, partially as a vehicle for my homegrown curry leaves, and I will blog about the process when it happens.) I heated this mess of things up together in a pot, and it turned into a spicy porridge which was warming and satisfying. Not bad, for 2 minutes' prep time.
It would have been fine served only with the naan breads I'd defrosted in the toaster oven, but happily, we also had my guilt-slaw to munch on the side. Look how pretty it turned out:
|A shot-glass of coleslaw looking fetching. The portions we consumed at supper were actually more like bucketfuls, not nearly as cute, but we got carried away with the yummies.|
I started by slicing about a quarter of a small head of red cabbage into 1/4" slices, then chopping these along their length into little pieces. (Normally, I just use the slices, but I was feeling particularly guilty this time.) I put the cabbage into a bowl, then grated half a peeled apple and 2 cloves of garlic over it. I added some chopped fresh basil and thyme, a teaspoon or so of apple cider vinegar, some salt and pepper, and a blob of mayonnaise. (A blob being the amount needed to create the consistency you crave. I think I used about a quarter cup, but I tend to underestimate amounts of things that aren't that good for me. You could start with a quarter cup then add more if it seems stingy.)
Coleslaw can be eaten immediately, but I had prepared this batch a little early so that I could refrigerate it for an hour or so to blend the flavors. I have to say, it was possibly the best coleslaw I've ever made, but don't pay much attention to this boast, since I say that nearly every time I make any kind of coleslaw. What can I say — I'm smitten with this food!