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Side dishes

The long arm of the slaw

By TOMMY C. SIMMONS, Associated Press
Published September 8, 2004

BATON ROUGE, La. - Food historians agree that the word "coleslaw" is taken from the Dutch words for cool cabbage or cabbage salad, but other than that bit of lexicography, they know little about the history of the salad.

Cookbook author David Rosengarten says in his new cookbook, It's All American Food, "Coleslaw has been with us in America for a very, very long time."

Besides being a salad of long standing, it is also a salad with no regional bias. Cooks in the North, South, East and West include coleslaw recipes in their community cookbooks.

There are dozens of coleslaw recipes, and until now about the only ingredient they had in common was finely chopped or shredded cabbage. The coleslaw dressing was and is the distinguishing factor in determining the type of coleslaw preferred.

Among the many variations are:

Sweet coleslaws with sugary dressings. The sweet coleslaws often include chopped pineapple, apple or raisins, and sometimes peanuts, besides the shredded cabbage.

Tart coleslaws with vinegar-based dressings. These cabbage coleslaws have a tangy taste and are often served with fried fish.

Spicy coleslaws with mustard- and sometimes horseradish-flavored creamy dressings. The spicy coleslaw mixtures usually contain chopped onion and bell pepper, as well as cabbage.

Exotic coleslaws. These may not contain any cabbage at all, but they are called coleslaw because of the way the vegetables or fruits are finely chopped and tossed together.

Southern food expert Damon Lee Fowler maintains in his cookbook, Classical Southern Cooking: A Celebration of the Cuisine of the Old South, that finely chopping cabbage is necessary to achieve wonderful-tasting coleslaw.

His favorite coleslaw is dressed with a little homemade mayonnaise, salt and coarsely ground black pepper. The dressing is simple, but here is what he says about the cabbage preparation:

"Sit down at the kitchen table to make this slaw, or you'll wear your shoulders out. Using a sharp knife and a large cutting board, cut the cabbage first into quarters and then into small chips, no longer than 1 inch and about a quarter-inch wide. The chips should not be too small; nor should they be long and stringy. You can't use a machine, because there isn't one that will make the chips the right size. Now you know why you have to sit down."

On the other hand, Rosengarten mentions in It's All American Food that he prefers shredded cabbage and, like Fowler, describes how to slice a cabbage to make the "best" coleslaw.

"There are several things to keep in mind if you're looking for very thin shreds of cabbage. First of all, small cabbages tend to have fewer thick folds of cabbage inside than large cabbages do - so buy a small head when making coleslaw.

"Second, savoy cabbages have more-delicate leaves - so they, too, are better for fine-shred slaw.

"The most important factor of all is the way you cut the cabbage. I like to slice each cabbage in half through the length of the core, then in half again into quarters. Take one quarter and cut out the thick core. Look at the strata of cabbage leaves remaining; most leaves will be thin. But inside your cabbage quarter you'll see a few thick layers of cabbage leaves. Cut them out or pull them out by hand. Discard the thick leaves. Now you're ready to take a long, sharp knife and start shredding the cabbage quarter, shaving it into very, very fine shreds. Repeat with the remaining three quarters," Rosengarten instructs.

The food staff at the Advocate in Baton Rouge, La., cut a couple of cabbages as Rosengarten described and did notice the thickened layers; however, it was easier to identify those layers in the purple or red cabbage than in a green (white) cabbage.

For cooks who don't want to take time chopping or shredding cabbage, packages of shredded cabbage are sold in the produce sections at most supermarkets. The food staff sampled three packaged coleslaw products to see if the precut cabbage mixtureswould produce acceptable coleslaw. They worked fine.

Mike Anderson's Coleslaw

15 cups shredded green cabbage

2 cups shredded purple cabbage

1 1/2 cups finely chopped yellow onions

3/4 cup finely chopped green bell peppers

2 tablespoons chopped green onions

2 cups Coleslaw Dressing (recipe follows)

In large mixing bowl, combine green cabbage, purple cabbage, yellow onions, bell peppers and green onions. Using hands, toss well.

Add Coleslaw Dressing. Toss and serve.

Serves 12 to 15.

Mango coleslaw

1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and chopped

1 cup julienned tart green apple (see note)

1/2 cup julienned carrot

1/3 cup dried, sweetened cranberries

1/4 cup halved green or red grapes, optional

1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

Mix together all ingredients in a glass or ceramic bowl.

Source: "Roux to Do," published by the Junior League of Greater Covington, La.

Georgia Coleslaw

1 cup corn oil

1 cup sugar

1 cup apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons celery seed

2 teaspoons dry mustard

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 cabbage, coarsely shredded

1 large onion, sliced in rings

2 green bell peppers, coarsely chopped

Combine the oil, sugar and vinegar in an enamel or stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the celery seed, mustard, salt and pepper. Let cool slightly. Combine the cabbage, onion and bell pepper with the marinade in a glass or china bowl. Let stand in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Source: "How to Cook a Pig and Other Back-to-the-Farm Recipes" by Betty Talmadge, Lovejoy, Ga., included in a recipe collection cookbook, "A Gracious Plenty" by John T. Edge.

Tangy Coleslaw

1 cup mayonnaise

8-ounce can crushed pineapple in natural juice, undrained

1/2 cup raisins, chopped walnuts or pecans

1-pound bag packaged coleslaw mix

In large bowl, combine mayonnaise, pineapple and raisins. Stir in coleslaw mix; chill. Makes 8 servings.

Source: Hellmann's Real Mayonnaise.

Blue Cheese Coleslaw

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

1 tablespoon sugar

3/4 teaspoon celery seeds

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon dry mustard

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 pound cabbage, finely shredded

4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

Combine vinegar, onion, sugar, celery seeds, salt, mustard, pepper and garlic in a small bowl. Add oil in a fine, steady stream, whisking to blend. Chill, covered, for 1 hour or longer. Combine the cabbage and cheese in a bowl and toss to mix. Chill, covered, for 1 hour. Drizzle vinegar mixture over cabbage, toss gently and serve. Makes 6 servings.

Fiesta Slaw

5 tablespoons fresh lime juice

3 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise

5 cloves garlic, finely minced

2 teaspoons minced canned chipotle chilies (or to taste)

1 tablespoon honey

1 large red bell pepper, cut into thin strips

1 large green bell pepper, cut into thin strips

1 large yellow bell pepper, cut into thin strips

12 ounces jicama, peeled, cut into thin strips

1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Puree first 5 ingredients in a blender or food processor until dressing is smooth. Place peppers, jicama and cilantro in a large bowl. Add dressing and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate until the vegetables soften a little but remain crunchy, about 4 hours. Serve at room temperature.

Makes 10 servings.

Red Cabbage, Carrot and Jicama Slaw

1 red cabbage, about 2 pounds

2 large carrots, finely shredded

1 cup finely shredded jicama

1 1/2 teaspoons canola oil

3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/2 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

3 scallions, green part only, finely chopped

1/3 cup chopped cilantro leaves

Freshly ground black pepper

Cut cabbage in half, then in thirds crosswise. Shred each third into a large mixing bowl. Mix in carrots and jicama. Mix in oil and salt to coat vegetables evenly. Whisk together orange juice, lime juice and vinegar. Mix into vegetables. Mix in scallions and cilantro. Season with pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 24 hours, so the cabbage wilts and flavors meld. Slaw keeps up to three days tightly covered in refrigerator.

Makes 16 servings.

[Last modified September 7, 2004, 10:20:29]

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