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A coleslaw cavalcade. August 22, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here (again).* My friend Delilah noted the other morning that she’d harvested her last four cabbage heads and planned to make slaw, which is what we Southerners call coleslaw. (When I first moved to Pennsylvania and ordered slaw at restaurants, I was met with blank stares, even if it was on the menu. But of course it was listed as coleslaw.) Coincidentally, PChef over at www.SmartKitchen.com expressed interest in my contributing a guest post on the history of coleslaw for SmartKitchen.com. As summer winds down, coleslaw is clearly on people’s minds and menus.

That’s because it’s the perfect hot-weather use for cabbage: crunchy, cooling, delicious, easy to make, inexpensive, and good for you. What more could you ask from any dish? My researches turned up a fascinating history, and plenty of regional variants, including warm slaw and barbecue slaw (not a side dish to barbecue, but a Piedmont regional specialty that uses barbecue sauce on the slaw itself). You’ll have to wait for the SmartKitchen.com post for all the historical details—I’ll let you know when it goes up!—but I can tell you how it got its name and provide some yummy recipes here and now.

Coleslaw: What does that mean, anyway? From my horticulture background, I had no trouble with “cole”: The brassicas—cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and the like—are collectively referred to as cole crops. We learned that in class. But what does “cole” actually mean? And what about the “slaw” part?

Finding that out took me right to the founding of the American Colonies, or more particularly, to the Dutch founding of New Netherlands (you might know it by its later name, New York). Turns out, “coleslaw” is an Anglicanization of the Dutch koolsla, itself a shortening of koolsalade. A salad made from cole crops, or more specifically, cabbage. Early coleslaw was a simple combination of shredded cabbage, oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper, allowed to sit for a few hours to let the flavors marry, then served at room temperature.

However, even the Americanized word was hard for non-Dutch colonists to handle. Thus, by the 1800s, it was often referred to as “cold slaw,” much as iced tea is frequently called “ice tea” to this day, as if you were serving up a tea-flavored block of ice instead of an iced drink. Which in turn led to the creation of “warm slaw,” which was buttered and served with a garnish of hard-boiled egg.

Unlike many historic dishes, I think both the original Dutch koolsla and the Kentucky variant, warm slaw, would actually taste good. But let’s fast-forward to the wealth of coleslaws available to us today. Here are seven—count them, seven—easy, delicious coleslaws to try. Make ’em all and find your favorite!

Mind you, I’m not a snob when it comes to coleslaw. If I have a head of cabbage, I’ll use half and hand-shred it with my trusty Victorinox paring knife. But if I don’t have a head of cabbage on hand, or am in a hurry, I’m so happy there are now convenient bags of pre-shredded red cabbage, carrots, and “coleslaw” mix of shredded green cabbage with a little red cabbage and shredded carrot thrown in. I also love the bags of “broccoli slaw,” with shredded broccoli stems mixed with carrots and red cabbage, though I’ve never tried to use them in coleslaw. Instead, I mix a half-cup of broccoli slaw into my tossed salads to add some extra texture and cancer-fighting oomph.

But let’s get back to those slaws. When I’m pressed for time and want a super-fast, super-easy coleslaw, this is my go-to recipe. Yes, it sounds too good to be true, but it’s not only delicious, you should see how fast it vanishes from everybody’s plate.  

             World’s Simplest Slaw

1 bag ready made coleslaw (shredded green cabbage, red cabbage, and carrot, not a dressed slaw)

1/2 bag shredded carrots

3 tablespoons diced sweet onion

1/2 to 2/3 bottle or jar of chunky blue cheese dressing

Mix slaw, carrots, and onion in a bowl. The goal is to coat the veggies, not drown them, so start with 1/2 bottle or jar, mix thoroughly, and add more, little by little, if needed. If your family doesn’t like blue cheese, you can substitute pepper ranch or cheese ranch instead. Cover and chill until picnic or serving time; stir again to mix before serving.

The next slaw is almost as easy, but it uses lemon juice and olive oil instead of dressing. Fresh and lively! I got the recipe from Aunt Debbi of the wonderful blog, Aunt Debbi’s Garden (http://auntdebbisgarden.blogspot.com/). Thanks, Aunt Debbi!!!

            Aunt Debbi’s Cole Slaw

1 cabbage, shredded

2 carrots, chopped fine

juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 tablespoon celery seed


Mix, refrigerate, mix again before serving, eat.

Let’s move on to some of my more elaborate coleslaws. But please note, as you read the recipes, that they’re easy, too. Bless coleslaw for being no more trouble to make, even in its more elaborate incarnations, than a tossed salad! The next one’s as beautiful as it is delicious:

           Silence’s Green and Gold Coleslaw    

1/2 large head green cabbage, shredded

1/2 large sweet yellow onion (such as Vidalia), diced

1 yellow bell pepper, diced

2 generous handfuls yellow wax beans, trimmed and cut in thirds

1/2 fennel bulb, diced

3 radishes, minced

1-2 tablespoons whole caraway seeds, to taste

1-2 tablespoons whole fennel seeds, to taste

1/2 bottle pepper ranch dressing

3 tablespoons lemon juice

salt (we like RealSalt) and lemon pepper to taste

Put shredded cabbage, radishes, yellow bell pepper, yellow wax beans, fennel, and onion in a large bowl; stir with a wooden spoon to mix thoroughly. Add caraway and fennel seeds, lemon juice, salt, and lemon pepper; mix well. Finally, add pepper ranch dressing and mix until all ingredients are thoroughly coated. Refrigerate, covered, overnight so flavors can marry, and stir again to mix before serving.

For a lighter slaw with a fresh, green taste, try this one:

              Coleslaw with Cilantro and Scallions

1/2 large head green cabbage, shredded

1 large bunch scallions (green onions), chopped

1 large bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

4 stems fennel tops (fronds), minced

1 red bell pepper, diced

2 tablespoons Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt)

1 tablespoon mixed hot red and black pepper, ground

1/4 cup sherry vinegar, or more to taste

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more to taste

In a large bowl, mix cabbage, red bell pepper, scallions, cilantro, and fennel. Stir in seasonings and oil and vinegar, mixing thoroughly. Refrigerate, covered, overnight, so flavors can marry, then stir again thoroughly before serving.

This next recipe is almost as easy as my World’s Simplest Slaw, and it’s both colorful and extremely healthy. But I’ve put it down here because it’s carrot-based, like the slaw that follows it. Needless to say, feel free to shred your own carrots and red cabbage rather than using the pre-shredded versions!

           Carrot Cabbage Confetti Coleslaw

1 package shredded carrots

2 packages shredded red cabbage

1 diced sweet onion (Vidalia, WallaWalla, 1015, or Candy), optional

1 carton crumbled gorgonzola cheese (or crumbled blue cheese or feta if preferred)

2 tablespoons fennel seeds (or caraway or cumin seeds if preferred)

1/4 to 1/2 cup sunflower seeds (shelled), to taste

Greek salad dressing, vinaigrette, or oil and vinegar

salt to taste (we like RealSalt)

Toss ingredients well to mix. Then add 1/3 to 1/2 bottle dressing, stirring in gently but thoroughly to just coat. Allow to stand, covered, for at least 2 hours so flavors can marry (or refrigerate overnight), then stir well again before serving.

Now for something a little more exotic: Moroccan carrot salad, which is really a slaw without cabbage. I found this online, but the original source was cited as Redbook:

           Moroccan Carrot Salad

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1 10-ounce package shredded carrots

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1/4 cup raisins

2 tablespoons olive oil

In a large saucepan, combine lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon, cumin, coriander and salt. Add cayenne pepper and bring to a boil. Stir in shredded carrots and cook 2 minutes. Transfer mixture to a large bowl, and add raisins, olive oil and cilantro, tossing to combine. Cover and refrigerate until serving. Serves 4.

But wait, where’s that mayo-based MidSouth coleslaw I grew up with? The kind you often find done badly, tired, minced to death, flavorless and watery. Done well, a traditional MidSouth coleslaw is delicious, even if that mayo does sort of offset the healthy component of the shredded cabbage and carrots. But where could I find a really good recipe?

Rushing to my good friend Google, I took a look around, convinced that the Cook’s Country website wouldn’t fail me. But it didn’t come up when I searched. Paula Deen’s recipe did, though. Convinced that I would find classic Southern slaw, I clicked on it. But no… green bell pepper, onion, and many another ingredient that had never seen the light of day in authentic Southern slaw turned up in Paula’s ingredients list. I’m sure Paula’s slaw is delicious, but it’s not authentic. I continued to search, eventually coming upon a recipe for buttermilk coleslaw on Allrecipes.com that I think pretty much does the trick, though I have to say, I don’t think anybody ever put sugar in my coleslaw, especially not 3 tablespoons! And the slaw I grew up with never came from a package. But thank you, TC Steffey, whoever you are! Here it is:

                  Buttermilk Coleslaw

2 cups mayonnaise

1 cup buttermilk

3 tablespoons white sugar

1 teaspoon celery seed

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 packages shredded coleslaw mix

In a large bowl, mix mayo, buttermilk, sugar, celery seed, pepper, and lemon juice. Add coleslaw mix and stir well to coat with dressing. Refrigerate for several hours to let the flavors blend before serving.

Is that enough coleslaw for you? If not, please send me your own favorite version. I think it’s something I could eat every day, at least until November!

                ‘Til next time,


* Our friend Ben has said that, if I don’t stop hogging the airspace here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, there are going to be “consequences.” But since he happens to love coleslaw as much as I do, he was willing to drop the threats for this post.



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