A Tangy Taste of Fun

No matter how you slice or shred it, coleslaw is a perennial favorite as well as a national dish.

| September/October 2007

  • recipes
    A few yummy choices: clockwise from top left, Basic Coleslaw, Fiesta Cabbage en Escabeche, Asian-Style Slaw, Coleslaw with Oil and Vinegar, Red Cabbage and Arugula Slaw, and Coleslaw with Dill.
    Susan Belsinger

  • recipes

Basic Coleslaw
Coleslaw with Dill
Coleslaw with Oil and Vinegar
Asian-Style Slaw
Fiesta Cabbage en Escabeche
Red Cabbage and Arugula Slaw

Cabbage is one of the oldest cultivated vegetables. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, kale and kohlrabi are all members of the genus Brassica and descendants of a wild cabbage brought from Asia to Europe by the Celts about 600 B.C. Since cabbage is easily grown in temperate to cool climates and is a high-yielding crop that stores well, it quickly became a popular food to cultivate in Europe and throughout the world.

Koolsla is a Dutch word that translates to “cabbage salad,” or coleslaw as we know it. Cole was a word used for cabbage up until the 1400s when the word cabbage first began to be used in the English language. Many mistakenly refer to this salad as cold slaw – it is served cold – however, this is just a mispronunciation of coleslaw. This salad of shredded cabbage, either red or green, dressed with mayonnaise or vinaigrette has been eaten for centuries in many countries.

Cabbage is king

Raw cabbage contains more nutrients and has greater medicinal value than cooked cabbage. Full of nutrients, yet low in calories, cabbage contains vitamins A, B, C and K, as well as potassium, folic acid, calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese and sulfur. This wonder food is noted for some of the following attributes: antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, detoxifying, diuretic, restorative, and reduces blood sugar, as well as helpful with digestive ailments from gastritis and diverticulitis to ulcers. The American Cancer Society recommends eating any of the brassicas on a regular basis since they contain phytochemicals with anticancer properties. According to Michael Murray in his book The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, “The anticancer effects of cabbage-family vegetables have been noted in population studies. Consistently, the higher the intake of cabbage-family vegetables, the lower the rates of cancer, particularly colon, prostate, lung and breast cancer.”

To get the most of these nutritional treasures, choose cabbages that are firm and shiny without cracks or browning on the edges. Once cut, the cabbage has already begun to lose some of its nutritional value, which is why it’s better to buy the whole cabbage rather than pre-cut or the shredded cabbage in “slaw mix.”
At home, store cabbage in the refrigerator and wrap cut cabbage tightly and use within a few days. When preparing a cabbage in the kitchen, remove and discard the outer leaves. The easiest way to handle a cabbage is to cut it in half lengthwise and then into quarters. Then remove the core, and slice thin for slaw, or cut into wedges to grate or shred in a food processor. After cutting, wash the cabbage in a colander and drain well before using in your recipe.

A cinch to make

The following recipes include coleslaws made with mayonnaise or oil and vinegar. The mayonnaise version of Basic Coleslaw has delicious variations at the end of the recipe. Alternative herbs and other ingredients are included in each recipe. I use mostly organic, cold-pressed or expeller-pressed oils. Good-quality mayonnaise makes a difference in taste, as do vinegars. I only use organic apple cider vinegar. You can use green, red, Savoy or Napa cabbages in any of these recipes. From Asian to Italian, All-American to South-of-the-Border, you’ll find a slaw here to accompany any meal.

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