An Ode To Coleslaw

If you don’t like coleslaw, it’s probably not your fault. When what you’re offered is the same old tired side dish, what reason would you have to be excited? Yet there’s hope, folks – because good coleslaw rocks, is easy to make, and is a perfect vehicle for showcasing late season goodies from your garden.

Slaw has a venerable past, reaching all the way back to the Roman Empire. The version we know best today has its roots in Dutch immigrants who settled in New York State – they grew a lot of cabbage, to take advantage of the wealth of vitamin C that can provide during the long winter months. They made sauerkraut, as well as an unfermented, shredded cabbage salad – Koosla.

Mayo-based dressing that adorns most slaw these days is quite a bit younger than vinegar versions. Invented by the French in in the mid 1700s, it took mayonnaise a while to arrive in the colonies – it showed up in American cuisine in the 1830s.

All that historical jive aside, if you’re not that hot on slaw, it’s likely that some combination of four factors are in play – either heavy, mayo-based dressings don’t float your boat, the sauce to veggie ratios you’ve tried were way off, what you were given wasn’t fresh, or you just don’t dig cabbage all that much. Fortunately, all these are easy fixes.

Mayo-based slaw dressing is great, especially when it’s made with fresh mayonnaise. Great creamy slaw dressings can also be made with sour cream, crema Mexicana, crème fraîche, Greek yogurt, or buttermilk. Still shaking your head? Then there’s a world of zippy oil and vinegar dressings out there for you.

As for super saucy slaw, a word – don’t. Always keep in mind that this is a dish that celebrates lovely fresh veggies – the dressing is a note, not the whole damn symphony.

Coleslaw is all about fresh veggies. In fall, cabbages are at their best – and I mean cabbages plural – there’s the classic round in red, white and green, the wrinkly Savoy, delicate Napa, choy sum, and deep green Tuscan. There’re also carrots, onions, garlic, celery, Brussels sprouts, kale, bok choy, mushrooms, and kohlrabi. That’ll make a slaw that celebrates late harvest bounty.

Mizuna

If you don’t dig cabbage, there’s arugula, cress, mustard greens, mizuna (Japanese mustard), mibuna (Chinese cabbage), and tatsoi, (non-heading Asian mustard). Never heard of them? Do some poking around in your local co-op or CSA and you’ll likely find most if not all available. Chewy flavorful, these greens will make a great base for a non-cabbage slaw.

Mibuna

Whatever you do, portion accordingly, so that what you make gets eaten right away. With the exception of ingredients you might want to quick pickle or marinate for a bit before assembly and service, slaw must be fresh – that means don’t dump dressing on slaw hours before you’re going to eat. Dressings need decent marriage times, but the marriage of veggies and dressing shouldn’t happen until quite close to service.

Long gone are the days of slaw featuring naught but cabbage and carrot. Onion, celery, garlic, sweet peppers, cilantro, fresh chiles, radish, shallot, tomato, cukes or green beans – if you love ‘em, add ‘em. Fall fruits and nuts? Absolutely. Perhaps a quick pickle of onion, garlic, shallot, carrot, or beans to contribute another layer of zing? Without a doubt. What about cheese in coleslaw? Well, yeah – a touch of Parmigiano Regiano, feta, aged cheddar, or creamy Swiss? Hell yeah.

Slaw should never be boring – it’s a celebration of color, taste, texture and scent. Fresh herbs? Definitely – basil, thyme, rosemary, parsley, cilantro, sage, lemon thyme, or savory can all find a place in the veggie mix and/or dressing. Add touches of flavored vinegars, soy sauce, fish sauce, hot sauce, dried chiles, sesame seeds, cardamom, anise, Thai basil, or favorite spice blends from curries to furikake, and you’ll create stunning homages to many a cuisine.

Tailor your slaws to what you’re after – Something New Englandish? How about apples, chestnuts, roasted pumpkin seeds, and a dressing with a maple syrup note. Thai? Maybe glass noodles, bean sprouts, Thai basil, mint, and a dressing with notes of chile and fish sauce. Chinese? Maybe crunchy lotus root, Chinese long beans, choy sum, and a dressing laced with Pixian Sichuan Bean Paste – You get the idea, right?

Here to get you started are four dressing options, my go-to, a Japanese inspired Furikake, a Caribbean jerk powered one, and an Arab inspired version with besar.

For the Mayo and yogurt dressings, you can mix everything together and whisk until you’re fully incorporated. For the oil and vinegar versions, mix everything except the oil, then add that slowly in a thin stream, whisking steadily, to allow the emulsion to properly form and bind. All these should have a good 20-30 minutes of marriage time prior to dressing your slaw. These are proportioned to do just about right for a bowl of slaw that’ll feed 3-5.

Urban’s Go To Slaw Dressing

3/4 Cup Mayonnaise

2 Tablespoons Pineapple Vinegar

1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard

1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar

5-6 Shakes Hot Sauce

1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt

7-8 Twists freshly ground Black Pepper

Urban’s Ginger-Furikake Slaw Dressing

1/4 Cup unseasoned Rice Vinegar

1/2 Cup Avocado Oil

1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar

2 teaspoons fresh grated Ginger Root

1 teaspoon Yasai Fumi Furikake

1/2 teaspoon Roasted Sesame Oil

1/2 teaspoon freshly minced Garlic

1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt

Urban’s Citrus Jerk Slaw Dressing

2 Fresh Limes – 1/4 Cup fresh squeezed Lime Juice

1 Fresh Orange – 1/4 Cup fresh squeezed Orange Juice

1/2 Cup Avocado Oil

1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar

1 Teaspoon Jerk Spice Blend

1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt

Urban’s Emirati Besar Slaw Dressing

3/4 Cup plain Greek yogurt

1/4 Cup Avocado Oil

1 Tablespoon fresh Lemon juice

Zest from small fresh Lemon

2 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar

2 Tablespoons Agave Nectar

2 teaspoons Emirati Besar

Pinch of Sea Salt

5-6 twists Black Pepper