Coleslaw Recipes for Every Occasion

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Classic Creamy Slaw is a standard summer dish.
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Fresh Summer Basil Slaw's light taste may make it the hands-down favorite next summer.
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Serve pork with a Warm Red Cabbage Slaw on the side.

To the pantheon of vegetables that are entirely different experiences when consumed fresh from the garden, add the lowly, humble cabbage. If you’ve never grown it or tasted it when the grower has cut it fresh just that morning, someone needs to lay down the slaw.

When it’s freshly cut, standard green cabbage is sweet, fragrant, crunchy, with no sulphurous aroma or undertaste. Consume it once, and you’re ruined for coleslaw that’s made in a factory somewhere and shipped in five-gallon buckets to delis and barbecue joints across the country.

But the resurgence of home gardening is bringing a whole realm of cole crops to the table, and we’re not just talking red cabbage. We’re talking late flat Dutch. Savoy, with its fancy crinkled leaves. Napa. Radicchio. And a whole world of Asian cabbages, from Chinese cabbage to all the choys – bok, pak and the tiny “Toy Choi.” Asian greens adapt easily to short growing seasons and small spaces. Why be limited to cabbage? Try broccoslaw, made from peeled broccoli stalks, or chop broccoli raab buds into a standard creamy cabbage slaw.

The basic principles of a slaw are universal: raw vegetables (except for the cooked German slaws); a dressing that is a balance of sweet and sour; and other ingredients that add flavor, color or crunch. Toasted nuts, dried fruits, seeds or sprouts can be added to slaws; the key is to assess their ability to stand up to the dressing. For example, the roasted soybeans that add crunch and protein to an Asian slaw can get soggy, so they’re added at the last minute, just before serving. Pine nuts, on the other hand, are oily enough that they can go right into the mix from the beginning.

Tender Asian greens wilt quickly in a vinegar dressing, so put it on just early enough to get the whole concoction chilled. And salt helps vegetables release water, so don’t salt a raw slaw until you get it to the table.

Try different bases for your creamy slaw dressing – yogurt and dill, for example, instead of mayonnaise. Nut and seed oils bring different flavors to a vinegar-based slaw, and so do different vinegars. Experiment with white wine, a dash of sherry vinegar or balsamic.

Fresh herbs such as thyme or tarragon bring subtle, intriguing accents to a basic creamy slaw; just be cautious with the more pungent ones, such as garlic chives.

Now, let’s take on the slaw! 

Warm Red Cabbage Slaw

This slaw isn’t cooked to the limp stage, like many German cabbage dishes, and it isn’t overpowered by the taste of reduced vinegar. But it retains enough old-world, traditional flavor to be a sweet accompaniment to succulent grilled pork loin or chops.

1 small head of red cabbage (to yield 3 to 4 cups when shredded)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoons fennel seed
1/2 cup unfiltered apple cider
1/4 cup currants
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste 
Shred cabbage by hand; you want shreds the width of a fettuccini noodle and about 2 inches long, or thereabouts.
In nonstick saucepan, combine cabbage and olive oil over medium heat, in stages; you want just enough olive oil to coat all the shreds.
Cook cabbage, stirring frequently, until it begins to give up a bit of crispness, about 10 minutes.
While cabbage is cooking, in dry, heavy skillet, toast fennel seeds until they begin to give up their fragrance, about 5 minutes. Toss fennel seeds, then stir cabbage. When the fennel seeds are toasted, set aside.
Add apple cider to cabbage and heat to simmer. Continue to stir. Add currants. Let cabbage braise until just a little less cooked than you prefer. Add lemon juice. Stir and continue to simmer a few minutes while adding salt and pepper. Yields 6 servings.

Classic Creamy Slaw

There are many schools of thought on creamy slaw dressing. This is my mother’s thin, milky, tangy version, which we always had in the fridge during summer. This slaw keeps well for several days if you don’t salt it until you serve it.

3 cups shredded cabbage
1/2 green pepper, finely diced
2 carrots, shredded
1/2 cup mayonnaise or Miracle Whip
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons half and half or whole milk
Italian parsley leaves, if desired 
In large bowl, combine cabbage, pepper and carrots.
In small bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients; add to cabbage mixture. Garnish with chopped Italian parsley, if desired.
The slaw dressing can be made in advance and stored in a sealed jar in the refrigerator, where it will keep for several weeks.

Fresh Summer Basil Slaw

The lime juice makes this a light, refreshing slaw for summer’s hottest days, and it is lightning quick to throw together. You can dress it up with a few basil blossoms if your basil is blooming.

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons lime juice (about 1 large lime or 2 medium)
2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar
4 cups shredded green cabbage, fresh from the garden or farmers’ market, if possible
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, loosely packed.
1/4 cup pine nuts 
Whisk together olive oil, lime juice and honey. Toss with cabbage.
Before serving, roll basil leaves into a tube and chop roughly; add to slaw mixture.
In dry skillet, over medium heat, toast pine nuts for a few minutes until they just begin to take on a golden color. Remove from skillet and allow to cool.
Top each serving with sprinkle of nuts. Yields 8 servings. 

Quick Bok Choy Slaw

No time to shred cabbage? This mild, juicy relative doesn’t have to be chopped fine. It’s tender, though, so don’t add the dressing to this slaw more than an hour before serving. Mirin, sweet rice wine, is key to the sweet/sour balance and can be found in your grocery’s Asian section along with the other ingredients

2 tablespoons roasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons mirin
1 head bok choy, coarsely chopped, white and green parts
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds
1/4 cup roasted soybeans
Salt, to taste 
Whisk together oil, vinegar and mirin. Toss with bok choy.
Refrigerate for 1 hour to chill.
Before serving, top each individual serving with sprinkle of black sesame seeds and roasted soybeans. Yields 4 servings.

Susan Clotfelter writes for The Denver Post, blogs at www.DenverPost.com/diggingin, and is growing three kinds of cabbage this year.