A Tangy Taste of Fun

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Susan Belsinger
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.

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.

Basic Coleslaw

This recipe is adapted from the recipe for Coleslaw published in Sacramental Magic in a Small-Town Café: Recipes and Stories from Brother Juniper’s Cafe by Peter Reinhart. He is emphatic that coleslaw needs nothing other than cabbage, onion, mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, sugar and a generous amount of black pepper; and when he serves this, he looks for a “coleslaw reaction.” Reading his recipe book and the way he thinks about food made me want to visit his café in Santa Rosa, California. My adaptation uses the same basic ingredients; however, I add salt, cut down on the vinegar and pepper and way back on the sugar. You can adjust all of these to suit your taste. Also see variations at the end of the recipe.

5 cups coarsely grated or finely shredded green cabbage
1/3 cup grated red or yellow onion
About 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Scant 1 cup good-quality mayonnaise
About 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, preferably organic
About 11/2 tablespoons sugar or pure maple syrup

In large bowl, combine cabbage and onion, season with salt and pepper (start with about 1/2 teaspoon of each) and toss well. Add mayonnaise, vinegar and sugar or maple syrup. (You will need a little more syrup than sugar.)

Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Remove from refrigerator, stir and taste for seasoning. Adjust with a little more vinegar, sugar, mayonnaise or salt and pepper, according to taste.

Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Yields about 6 servings.

Note: Add any one (or two) of the following ingredients for a tasty variation of the basic:

1 to 2 tablespoons freshly grated or prepared horseradish
1 medium carrot, grated
1/2 teaspoon Hungarian-style paprika
About 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped dill
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon celery seed


Coleslaw with Dill

Coleslaw lends itself to herb variations; dill is a perennial favorite, although tarragon, summer savory, sweet marjoram and parsley are all tasty with cabbage. Sorrel, shredded fine, is also interesting in coleslaw. This is a mayonnaise-based slaw; to cut the fat of the mayonnaise, I often substitute nonfat or low-fat yogurt or sour cream for half the mayonnaise.

5 cups coarsely grated or finely shredded green cabbage
1 carrot, grated fine
1/4 cup grated red or yellow onion
Salt and freshly ground pepper
About 1 cup mayonnaise or 1/2 cup mayonnaise and 1/2 cup yogurt or sour cream
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
About 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, preferably organic
About 1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon Hungarian-style paprika
About 3 tablespoons chopped dill

In large bowl, combine vegetables, season with salt and pepper; toss well. Add mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, sugar, paprika and dill; toss well.

Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Remove from refrigerator, stir and taste for seasoning. Adjust with a little more vinegar, sugar, mayonnaise, or salt and pepper, according to taste.

Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Yields about 6 servings.


Coleslaw with Oil and Vinegar

There are infinite variations on this classic slaw. You can use a mixture of oils, or use all olive oil if you prefer. Sometimes I use organic apple cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar in place of the white wine vinegar.

5 cups finely shredded cabbage
1/4 cup diced yellow or red onion
1 medium carrot, grated
1/2 teaspoon powdered mustard
1/2 teaspoon Hungarian-style paprika
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons vegetable or seed oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons sugar

In large bowl, toss together cabbage, onion and carrot. Sprinkle mustard, paprika and celery seed over vegetables. In small bowl and using a fork, mix vinegar, oils, salt, pepper and sugar together.

Toss dressing with vegetables; taste for salt, sugar and vinegar, and adjust to taste.

Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Remove from refrigerator; flavors will meld, so toss again and taste – you may need to add a little salt, sugar, mustard, paprika or vinegar.

Keep refrigerated until just before serving; remove from refrigerator and allow to stand at room temperature for 20 minutes. Yields about 6 servings.


Asian-Style Slaw

Napacabbage has a thick base that is white and crunchy, while the outer tips of the leaves are ruffled and more tender than common round-head cabbage. It has a different texture, and I think it has a stronger brassica flavor. This nutty, tangy, pungent and slightly sweet slaw is a good accompaniment to fried rice, Asian noodle dishes, tofu and even sushi.

5 cups finely shredded Napa cabbage
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1-inch piece gingerroot, peeled and grated (1 generous tablespoon)
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Salt
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Chile flakes, optional
2 to 21/2 tablespoons sweet brown rice or rice wine vinegar
2 to 3 teaspoons tamari soy sauce or Braggs Liquid aminos
3 tablespoons walnut, sunflower or sesame oil (not toasted)
1 to 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 to 3 teaspoons sugar

In large bowl, toss together cabbage, green onions, ginger and cilantro; sprinkle lightly with salt. Sprinkle sesame seeds and chile flakes, if you are using them, over salad. If there is a range in ingredients (i.e.: 2 to 3 teaspoons tamari), start with lesser amount to begin with; mix vinegar, tamari, oils and sugar together in small bowl with a fork.

Toss dressing with vegetables; taste for salt, tamari and sugar, and adjust to taste.

Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Remove from refrigerator; flavors will meld, so toss again and taste – you may need to add a little salt, sugar, vinegar, toasted sesame oil or tamari. Keep refrigerated until just before serving; remove from refrigerator and allow to stand at room temperature for 20 minutes. Yields 6 to 8 servings.


Fiesta Cabbage en Escabeche

This is a lively addition to any meal; I like to make it with half green and half red cabbage for a colorful presentation. Sometimes I use oregano, other times, cilantro – and often some of each. Use only one chile if you don’t want it too hot. Using both red and green bell peppers is pretty, but you can use all of one or the other.

5 cups finely shredded cabbage; half red and half green
About 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 small sweet green bell pepper, julienned
1/2 small sweet red bell pepper, julienned
2 serranos or jalapeños, stemmed, seeded and julienned
2 garlic cloves, slivered lengthwise
Generous tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar mixed with 1 tablespoon water
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 to 1 teaspoon sugar
Juice of 1/4 lime
1 teaspoon cumin, toasted and ground

Toss vegetables, garlic and oregano together. Mix together vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, sugar, lime juice and cumin.

Toss dressing with vegetables; taste for salt, pepper and sugar, and adjust to taste. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Remove from refrigerator; flavors will meld, so toss again and taste – you may need to add a little salt, sugar, cumin, vinegar or a squeeze of lime.

Keep refrigerated until just before serving; remove from refrigerator and allow to stand at room temperature for 20 minutes. Yields 6 to 8 servings.


Red Cabbage and Arugula Slaw

This is an Italian-style cabbage salad; Italians marinate many vegetables in simple vinaigrettes made with olive oil and red wine or balsamic vinegar, or lemon juice, a little fresh minced herb and/or garlic, and salt and freshly ground pepper. Some might want to add a few pinches of sugar. I like the flavor impact of arugula on the cabbage slaw; if you don’t have arugula, or don’t like it, try Italian flat-leaved parsley – it won’t have the pungency, and the green color and taste are pleasant. You also can substitute fresh fennel sprigs for half the parsley. If you add the sweetness of fennel, you might want to add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, too. Other options are a little sliced red onion or a few tablespoons of minced Italian oregano.

5 cups thinly sliced red cabbage (about 1/2 pound)
1 large or 2 medium garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed
About 2 to 21/2 tablespoons good-quality balsamic or red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon water
About 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Few pinches sugar, optional
About 11/2 cups coarsely chopped arugula or 1 cup Italian flat-leaved parsley

In bowl, toss cabbage with garlic. Mix together vinegar, water, olive oil, salt, pepper and sugar. Toss vinaigrette with cabbage.

Let salad stand at cool room temperature or refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. Toss arugula or parsley with cabbage, taste for seasoning, and season lightly with salt and pepper, if necessary, or adjust with a little more oil, vinegar or lemon juice.

Keep refrigerated until just before serving; remove from refrigerator and allow to stand at room temperature for 20 minutes. Yields about 6 servings.

As you can see, Susan is a coleslaw enthusiast – she likes it all ways, but two of her favorites are on grilled Swiss cheese sandwiches, or served with baked beans and cornbread.