A finicky guy's exploits in finding gustatory (and other) satisfaction in his kitchen, his neighborhood, and beyond.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Joy of Coleslaw

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:

  • mayo
  • olive oil with or w/o vinegar
  • lemon juice or vinegar
  • just wilted with salt
  • yogurt
  • creme fraiche or sour cream
  • cream

Other Flavorings/Ingredients
  • 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!


  1. I do love coleslaw, especially when it's mixed with a vinaigrette rather than a mayonnaise or similar base - yum! I just get bored with all the chopping... is that bad?

  2. I like mine with an asian style dressing of rice vinegar, soy sauce, honey and a little oil. Add sesame oil (a little bit - it's poweful) and a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds. Toss this with the shredded cabbage, leftover roast chicken, maybe some shredded carrots or red peppers - delicious!

  3. @Carina: You sound like the perfect candidate for a food processor! I, however, am one of those weird ones who loves the chopping phase of cooking. Other than putting all my spices out in little bowls to await their turn for adding to the pot, I find chopping the veggies to be the most satisfying step.

    @LHC: I'm going to have to try your asian-style slaw. . .soon! The inclusion of chicken is pure genius; I need to add it to my suggestion list.

  4. I love coleslaw as well. I don't make it all that often but when I do I make a heaping, heaping bowl full and eat it for days(belch). I never make it the same way twice. Last time I added carrots and pineapple, yum. My favorite is with sesame oil and fennel seed and lots of garlic(burp). Have a great day Michael.

    ps..I should be doing other things right now...can you say sew-a-long? Procrastinating is making Me feel guilty

  5. Since I love cabbage, coleslaw is always a hit with me, except any from the corner grocery store because it's always too mayonnaise-y for me.

    My grandparents used to live in Redbank NJ. Near their house was (is?) a deli, Chris'. Chris' has the best "regular" coleslaw EVER. Anytime anyone visited grandpa/ma, we'd have to go to Chris' and buy an obscene amount of slaw to bring back home. I'm craving it right now as I type.

    The second best "regular" I found by accident one day and it's right around the corner from me. I hate to admit it, but the KFC on the corner has coleslaw very similar to Chris'. Yes, KFC. Who knew?

    So one day I Googled* the KFC recipe and found a site of recipes mimicking favorite restaurants, and there it was. I use that recipe ALL the time to make coleslaw. There's very little mayo in it, instead it calls for buttermilk. Which I never have, so I used the dry type. Plus sugar, some vinegar, etc. I can write it out later if you want. It's a very runny dressing, but you let the slaw soak and absorb for a few hours and it's perfect. Love that stuff!

    *Spellcheck needs an update to recognize that Googled IS a word. I see it also needs an update to recognize "spellcheck" too, which I find hilarious.

  6. Good luck to all of you beginning Peter's sew-along today! We're up to our eyeballs in muslins here.

    Please fwd the KFC recipe when you get a chance, Debbie. (Although I'll never admit to anyone that I am making fast food in my kitchen.)

    I love meta-irony too, like when spellcheck doesn't recognize itself! (My version seems ok with itself, though.)

  7. Boy do I love coleslaw. We salt the cabbage to draw out moisture and then press it in a kitchen towel make it crispy. Celery seed is a nice addition to the dressing.

  8. Your wish, my command.

    "Unnamed Restaurant-Style Coleslaw"

    1/3 C sugar
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/8 tsp pepper
    1/4 cup milk
    1/4 cup buttermilk
    1/4 cup mayo
    2-1/2 tbl lemon juice
    1-1/2 tbl white vinegar
    8 C finely chopped cabbage
    1/4 C grated carrots

    In a large bowl, whisk together all ingredients except cabbage and carrots, until smooth and sugar is dissolved. Add cabbage and carrots and mix until blended with dressing. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.

    * * * * *

    You will probably want to cut this by half as it makes a LOT. As I mentioned earlier, I use the powdered buttermilk so it's always on hand and so I don't have a ton of leftover buttermilk turning into ... hmmm ... buttermilk? ... in the fridge.

  9. I love coleslaw. I have tried a few recipes, but unfortunately they don't seem to come out quite right.
    My German side of the family made a nice cabbage dish, but I don't remember what went into it. The cabbage was partly cooked and it was mixed with a vinegarette kind of dressing and it was more fresh tasting, maybe with mint or dill. The recipe above looks really deliciious.

    I think the sew along people are very brave. I am just a beginner and I would be hopelessly lost. It is great though to have some much information about sewing and the contribution of others.

  10. Hi Michael,
    Like you I love coleslaw. My current favourite is so simple. Chopped cabbage, carrots and onions. 1 heaping teaspoon of celery seed and a large handful of yellow raisins. Fresh ground black pepper and Kraft Creamy Poppy seed dressing. Sometimes I use dried cranberries instead of raisins.

  11. I remember that in Chile a common side dish was simple shredded cabbage with oil, fresh squeezed (squoze?!) lemon, salt and pepper. The perfect accompnaymen---accompaniamen....go with....for chuletas (chops) or asado alemán (which turned out to be le meatloaf.)
    In the old days before food phobia a beaten-to- thick-froth egg white could be added to salad dressings for added body. Do we dare today?

  12. I am not a picky eater, the only thing I don't eat is meat. So if it had some beaten-to-thick-froth egg white in it, I would probably eat it and wouldn't have a clue what it was. You just can't take me fine dining. I remember a dinner I went on, and the waiter poured the wine in my glass and I gulped the lot down much to the disgust of my sister-inlaw. Oops, you only taste it. How would I know if it was good quality?

  13. Oh it's ON.

    We get the best cabbage in Afghanistan and I'm making this tomorrow!

  14. @Sandy: shouldn't that be DAS meatloaf? Anyway, I ain't scared of no eggs, as I live in an imaginary happy land where Salmonella is just the name of a jazz-singing fish. When I add raw egg to dressings, it's usually a whole egg, but I'll have to try the beaten white thing.

  15. Michael - I love putting spices and such out into little bowls... I just hate chopping cabbage! I considered a mandolin but they take the skin off your fingers. Ultimately I just need to be less lazy.

  16. This post triggered a memory of cabbage and apple salad that my mom used to make. Just cabbage, apples and mayo. I haven't had that in probably 20-25 years (and I'm not *that* old). Whipped some up today. Yum! Thanks for tripping my memory.

  17. That recipe sounds a bit like Waldorf Salad, which I hated as a kid but now like. Did you like the cabbage/apple/mayo salad when you were young(er)?