It’s tough to resist the creamy cabbage concoction that is coleslaw
By Lorraine Smorol
Coleslaw, the ubiquitous side:
shredded cabbage, blended together with lots of mayonnaise.
It comes with a Friday-night fish sandwich special, or a burger at a cookout. The crunch of green cabbage masked with smooth and zesty mayonnaise makes for a tasty accompaniment and texture contrast to the palate. What’s more, it’s cheap, and can last, refrigerated, for days.
If you want a no-work, and inexpensive, salad to serve for dinner, a one-pound container of the crunchy stuff, enough for four generous servings, is available at your local supermarket for less than $2. For the same price, a package of unadorned slaw, a combination of shredded green and red cabbage, with some carrot shreds thrown in, usually labeled as coleslaw mix, will be enough to feed a crowd for a family cookout. Just add mayonnaise.
There are also bottled slaw mixes, sweet and oily concoctions that are an alternative to the mayonnaise. But the cheapest slaw, just pennies a serving, is one you make from scratch. A small head of green cabbage, priced at about $1, shredded and mixed with the mayonnaise, comes out to less than 10 cents per generous serving.
Coleslaw eaters stuck in the traditional green cabbage/mayonnaise version are probably not aware of the myriad possibilities for this cruciferous vegetable, starting with the fact that cabbage comes in many varieties. In addition to the green type, there is red cabbage, hearty and tangy, that makes a colorful addition when mixed with green; savoy, more like lettuce than cabbage in its texture than green or red; and napa, a long, curly specimen, also known as Chinese cabbage. Bok choy, the green and white leafy stalk, often found in Asian cuisine, is also a part of the cabbage family and, while not often thought of for making coleslaw, it is a mild, and less chewy, cabbage salad choice.
Other cruciferous vegetables allow for rethinking the common cabbage slaws. Try carrots alone, or Brussels sprouts, quickly blanched for easy chewing. Well known food writer Mark Bittman expanded the possibilities further in a Sept. 25 article in The New York Times: “If you can slice it, you can transform it into a surprising slaw.” Among his suggestions are fennel, beets, kohlrabi, daikon and broccoli.
History notes that cabbage use goes way back. There is evidence that ancient Roman cooks knew how to prepare shredded cabbage, blending a method of cooking cabbage, marinated in oil, salt and soda, used to retain its green color. This recipe is attributed to Marcus Gaius Apicius, the gluttonous Roman gourmet and lover of luxury, who lived in the first century A.D.
When cabbage was introduced to the Mediterranean region, Egyptians revered the heads as a god, and enthroned them on elaborate altars. As for eating the vegetable? No word on that. Fast-forward to medieval times when cabbage masked with salt and oil was actually first documented. Subsequently, the term “coleslaw” appeared at the end of the 18th century, then dubbed “koolsla,” which is the Dutch name for cabbage salad. The Dutch who settled in the New World brought the dish and name with them, and it was quickly embraced in the Colonies, since cabbage was easy to grow.
It made a cheap salad as well. At the
time, a mix of oil, vinegar, salt and pepper was still the common dressing, since mayonnaise, although invented in 1756 in France, was not readily available until 1906 when the product was created and sold to customers eager to try the new dressing, at Richard Hellman’s store in New York City.
Jerry Bolton knows a thing or two about coleslaw. The executive chef at OnCenter for 18 years, Bolton is also into his third year as president of the American Culinary Federation’s Syracuse chapter, and was named the chapter’s chef of the year for 1990, and again this year.
“I allow about 1.5 ounces per serving when preparing coleslaw,” says Bolton. “For a group of 100, I put about nine pounds of cabbage into a commercial shredder; for less, I just shred by hand.” To make an attractive visual display, plus an appealing texture, the chef may include red cabbage in a chiffonade: thin strips of red cabbage, red peppers, snow peas, raisins or even grapes, to the mix. He then combines Hellman’s mayonnaise with sugar, vinegar and pineapple juice to make a sweet and creamy dressing.
“For 100 portions, I take a quart of mayonnaise, one-half cup white vinegar, one cup of sugar and two cups of pineapple juice,” he says. For variety, Bolton may incorporate raspberry wine vinegar, or honey, which he says is less caloric than sugar.
It doesn’t take a great cook to make traditional coleslaw at home. Because of its many layers packed together in a tight ball, shredding is a snap. Just slice through the layers, add a dollop of mayonnaise, and you’re good to go.
Well, not exactly. While cabbage is virtually calorie-free, about 22 calories per half cup, mayonnaise is not. It is small comfort that mayonnaise is an excellent source of vitamins E and K, but just a half cup carries a whopping 720 calories (it’s pretty much pure fat). What’s more, it has almost 25 percent of your sodium recommendation for one day. Opting for reduced calorie mayonnaise, like one made with canola oil, can cut calories in half, but producers then add more sodium to enhance the flavor. Seems you can’t win.
Why not experiment with the other cabbages that work better with oil and vinegar dressings, because they are less sturdy with green or red cabbage? The end result, however, is a more delicatetasting and less caloric salad. The addition of other cruciferous vegetables, or any other creative combinations, fruit or nuts, for instance, can take slaws into another dimension.
From bettycrocker.com. Prepare this dish for a big party; it makes 14 half-cup servings.
6 cups shredded Chinese (napa) cabbage
1 medium tart apple, cut into julienne strips (about 1½ cups)
1 medium bulb fennel, thinly sliced (1 cup)
3 medium green onions, sliced (3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons shopped fresh parsley
1cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon grated gingerroot
In a large bowl, stir together cabbage, apple, fennel, onion and parsley. In a small bowl, stir together remaining ingredients, using a whisk, pour over cabbage mixture. Toss gently. Refrigerate 1 hour before serving.
Carolina Red Slaw
Found on a menu in a Lexington, N.C.
barbecue restaurant, and reprinted in Cook’s County magazine, July 2011.
½ cup cider vinegar
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2/3 cup ketchup
2 teaspoons salt
1 head green cabbage, cored
¼ cup sugar
Microwave vinegar and pepper flakes until mixture is bubbling around edges, 1-1½ minutes. Whisk ketchup and 1 teaspoon salt into vinegar mixture until combined. Cut cabbage into 2-inch-thick wedges and shred in food processor fitted with shredding disk, resulting in a grated texture. Toss cabbage, sugar and remaining 1 teaspoon salt in large bowl. Cover bowl and microwave until cabbage is just beginning to wilt, 1½-2 minutes, stirring halfway through. Transfer cabbage mixture to colander set over bowl.
Let cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Press cabbage to release excess moisture; discard liquid (it should measure about 1/3 cups). Toss cabbage and dressing in clean large bowl until combined. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 2 days.
Mark Bittman’s Brussels Sprouts Slaw with Peanuts
This recipe comes from the Sept. 25 New York Times.
Shred 1½ pounds of Brussels sprouts.
Whisk together ½ cup mayonnaise, ¼ cup lime juice, 2 tablespoons fish sauce and 2 teaspoons sugar. Toss with the sprouts, ½ cup chopped scallions, ½ cup chopped roasted peanuts and ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro. Garnish with more scallions