Friday, August 13, 2010

Summertime Slaw!

Let's talk about cool summer dishes. I grew up with coleslaw, and always liked it. These days, I'm more likely to swing by KFC and pick up a quart of their slaw than to make it at home, though, and I recently realized that just wasn't working for me. In part, because I really like to know what's in the food I'm eating.

Lucky for me, coleslaw is one of those dead-easy dishes that will forgive you while you practice. In fact, the toughest part of slaw is the dressing. Once you've added a yummy, zesty slaw dressing to your recipe repertoire.

Let's talk first about a couple of decisions you'll need to make. I'm a huge fan of shredding my own cabbage, and shredding it with a knife. I'll happily use the grater for the carrots, jicama, or anything else I decide to add to my slaw, but I hand-shred the cabbage. I do this for a couple of reasons:
  • It pleases me, that repetition, rhythm, and fine degree of control that I get from using a sharp knife to yield exactly the desired consistency and texture of the shredded cabbage.
  • The slaw-mix you can buy, pre-shredded in the plastic bag? Dried-out, tasteless, expensive.
  • That high-end Cuisanart food processor collecting dust in the back of the high cupboard-you-never-use, over the fridge? Reduces lovely crisp cabbage to eensy-weensy shreds, and it's a pain to clean up.

So you're essentially going to fill a big bowl with assorted shredded veggies. I like to use cabbage, maybe a little purple cabbage for color, carrots, some fresh green onion, and maybe some jicama or kohlrabi, if it's available. You might find this especially pleasing if you think about the combination of colors and textures, as well as thinking about the combination of flavors. You can vary the textures by varying the sizes of shreds, and consider tossing in a handful of toasted almond slivers, pecans, or hazelnut crumbles. (The bowl of slaw pictured above is topped with a sprinkle of toasted pecan crumbles and fresh basil leaves.) If you're looking for ways to cut sugar and fat in your diet, consider adding an apple to sweeten your slaw, peeled and cored and shredded.

Another set of options to consider is how do you want to serve your slaw? If you have a little leftover steak, some salad shrimp, or maybe a nice piece of smoked salmon, consider adding that in, too, chopped or shredded as needed. You'll have a delicious and robust slaw to serve as a sandwich on crusty rolls, or in a wrap.

Now, let's talk about dressings. I grew up with traditional mayonnaise and vinegar-based slaw dressings. Neither of those is particularly difficult. The following options will dress between two and three quarts of shredded veggies waiting naked in a big bowl.

  • Use about a cup and a half of good quality mayo 
  • Add a splash of vinegar or lemon juice (somewhere between two tablespoons and a quarter of a cup),
  • Add a tablespoon or so of sugar, if you like your slaw a little sweeter 
  • Add coarse-ground pepper, according to taste.  

You can experiment by adding other flavors, as well. Try experimenting with adding horseradish or coarse-ground mustard; perhaps even try some fennel, roasted garlic, or olives.

If a vinegar dressing is more to your taste, consider the kind of vinegar you'd like to use; perhaps you have a lovely balsamic or wine vinegar? Plain old cider vinegar can make a tangy and delicious dressing, too, though.

Whisk together in a bowl:

  • A half cup of good vinegar
  • A generous dollop of honey (a couple of tablespoons to a quarter of a cup)
  • A couple of spoons of stone-ground mustard
  • A pinch of celery seed
  • A little coarse pepper 
  • A couple of tablespoons of good-quality olive oil

As with the mayonnaise-based dressing, consider experimenting with other flavors you love and appreciate, like roasted garlic, red pepper, fennel, or a pinch of fresh-ground nutmeg.

Finally, the yogurt slaw dressing I've been promising people I'd post:
  • Toss your shredded veggies in about a quarter cup of fresh lemon juice
  • In another bowl, start with a cup or so of Greek-style yogurt—if this isn't readily available, it's pretty simple to make your own: simply pour a container of ordinary plain yogurt into a very fine mesh strainer over a bowl. If you con't have a chinois or cheesecloth, simply line your colander with a coffee filter. Let it drain overnight (in the refrigerator), discard the moisture that drains off and use the remaining yogurt.
  • Add a couple of tablespoons of honey, if you like a sweeter slaw. (I usually skip this, since I don't have much of a sweet tooth.)
  • A couple of tablespoons of coarse-ground mustard
  • A tablespoon or two of good-quality olive-oil (helps the dressing cling and it's actually good for you) 
  • Coarse-ground pepper and a little salt, to taste.
  • Whisk smooth, then add to your shredded veggies and mix it all together with a big wooden spoon

It's that simple. Cook with stuff that's fresh. Experiment. Taste as you go. And don't be afraid.


VGoob said...

Thanks, Mac! It seems so obvious now that I've read the recipe. Granted, I didn't consider Greek yogurt. It would undoubtedly end up soupy if one used the other, huh?

Mac said...

Yep - it would be rather too runny. The tablespoon or so of olive oil helps a lot with the cling factor, as well. :) Have fun with it!

mac's mom said...

You so have to make this the next time I make it out there. It sounds better than mine.

Stew said...

This sounds fantastic! I have to try it. I've been making my grandma's cole slaw for years but I never thought to change it up. Thanks for the great ideas.

Lynanne said...

Yum - with steak for sandwiches. I don't know if it is any good, but it is written deliciously!