Coleslaw, once the mainstay of the Kiwi barbecue table, has returned to favour, climbing up the salad chart’s culinary stakes. In part this is due to the goodness in the humble cabbage, coleslaw’s essential ingredient, being recognised whether it is cooked, raw, or pickled and fermented (Korea’s kimchi, Eastern Europe’s sauerkraut).
Sliders and the pulled meat craze also played a hand since pulled meat, regardless of its origin, seems co-joined with coleslaw when served in the peppy mini burger bun. Convenience has stepped in too, as we are now too busy to slice cabbage (really?), and bags of shredded cabbage can be plucked from the shelf, opened, tossed with the enclosed dressing and hey presto, coleslaw is made.
In addition, like so many fruits and vegetables, cabbage and its close relations are on a roll, and the basic coleslaw has had a significant makeover.
It’s no longer just cabbage, carrot and onion — heaven forbid in our ever-fabulous foodie world we would want anything basic! The coleslaw has featured every variety of the species and more . . . white, green, red, Chinese and savoy cabbages, along with other brassica family members,kale, brussels sprouts, cavolo nero, broccoli and even cauliflower (usually stems).
Fruit and herbs make appearances and seeds, nuts and dried fruit tout for inclusion too. Coleslaw is no longer a barbecue also-ran; it’s the prime attraction, after the steak.
That said, coleslaw’s health benefits can easily be drowned in a torrent of mayonnaise, often added in excessive amounts on the excuse that it will soften up the shredded leaves in the hope it will be easier to get the unruly shreds of veg from plate to mouth!
Mayonnaise is pretty much whipped oil, with a few egg yolks and a little seasoning, and it’s not the easiest or best way to take the starchiness off the shredded leaves.
Having sliced your cabbage, place it in a bowl, sprinkle with a little salt and sugar and massage the shredded leaves so they crush in your hands, allowing the salt and sugar to work their magic, encouraging the cabbage to give up a little of its moisture which, in turn, causes the leaves to soften.
Dress coleslaw frugally with mayonnaise or vinaigrette, remembering you want a crisp salad, not something akin to wet hay. Red cabbage coleslaw will benefit from having acid ingredients included, such as a lemon-juice based vinaigrette, sliced apple, or orange segments as these will prevent the colour from running.
Once made, coleslaw will last several days, when kept well-covered in a clean container in the fridge. When serving a second time, refresh the flavours with chopped herbs, or sliced fruits.
This week, in a salute to basics, I’ve prepared my mother’s coleslaw, for which she was renowned. Its ingredients seem like a jumble, but together they make a substantial coleslaw that tastes great, especially with sausages, at the summer barbecue.
The recipe is given for half a white or green cabbage, though you can use savoy or red cabbage or a mix of all three. There’s enough here to have with friends or have as leftovers the next day. The finer you shred the cabbage, the nicer the finished texture.
There are no onions in this recipe, though you could add a small chopped onion, or chopped spring onions. However, in warm weather, onions, when chopped into mayonnaise-dressed salad, can start to ferment. In addition, raw onion has a powerful flavour that many do not appreciate, taking over ingredients with a more subtle taste — even cabbage!
To this basic recipe, you can add almost anything you fancy, from shredded apple, diced onion, chopped chives, torn roasted or smoked chicken, shredded corned beef, crumbled blue cheese etc. The list is endless. Get the recipe