Slaws are usually associated with summertime picnics and backyard barbeques, which is strange as most of the standard slaw components (cabbage, carrots, celery, onions, parsley) are hardy veggies that are standard offerings in winter CSA shares. For me, slaws are salads of winter and, with all of the stews and braises happening, a welcome serving of vegetables to break up the meat and potato parade.
As with any salad, the quality of the finished product hinges entirely on the freshness and flavor of each individual component. That being said, the combinations of vegetables and herbs that can be used are vast, with each permutation resulting in a unique and colorful accompaniment to any meal. Like the quiche before, this flexibility makes slaw a perfect “template” to experiment and play with in the kitchen, only limited by your tastes and what is in the crisper.
To start, I usually use a cabbage for the base. In today’s variation, I used, a green cabbage from this week’s share. Chopped fine, it will make up the majority of the slaw greenery. Red (purple) cabbage is a perfectly fine alternative, and the combination of the green and red is both flavorful and visually stunning. One also doesn’t have to stop with cabbage – most any cruciferous veggie will do – raw Brussels sprouts sliced thin or finely chopped broccoli also work well for a slaw base. To note: using a food processor as a chopping assist will definitely help your slaws come together in a snap; personally, although I have a Cuisinart, I enjoy the rhythm of the slicing and dicing process too much to automate just yet.
(A slaw from Christmas dinners past: Brussels sprouts, celery root, watermelon radish)
The topping choices come next. Most standard (and used in this variation) are carrots, onions (of the green, red or shallot variety) and celery. Like the base, the possibilities here are only limited by your imagination – I have used finely sliced radishes, raw beets (delicious, but beware – the entire slaw and your hands will end up a shocking shade of magenta) and celery root, to name a few. Anything crispy and cool will work here, and this includes some fruit as well – fresh tart apples spring to mind.
Last, but certainly not least, is the dressing. This is where many slaw fantics draw their lines in the ground. I land solidly on the side of a tangy vinegar-based sauce to coat my veggies, rather than the sweet, cloying dressings often found on store bought slaws and mixed vegetable salads. My go-to slaw dressing was actually not originally intended for this purpose, but is known by many as the traditional dressing for the traditional French side dish celeri remoulade, in itself a slaw of sorts. My friend Camille has perfected the recipe, which you can find with a bit more information about the original dish here. I find that the combination of mayonnaise, Dijon, capers, shallot (here a bit of white onion because The Bat doesn’t yet keep shallots in stock) and a splash of cider vinegar creates a creamy, pucker-y, salty sauce whose flavors stand up well to the cast of strong flavors in any standard slaw mix.
If possible, I finish the slaw off with a sprinkling of fresh parsley and then its ready to eat! Slaws are great for picnics and barbeques, as we know, but that vinegary crunch is also a perfect complement to most any meat and potato dinner. I am also a fan of mixing in a chopped, poached chicken breast creating an easy, healthy, one-dish brown bag lunch. For me, the seemingly endless combinations make slaws a great ‘clean out the crisper before the next CSA share’ type of dish, and they keep well for days in the refrigerator – often getting even tastier after one or two days once the flavors have really had a chance to meld.
I am not the only one with a penchant for slaws. One of my all-time favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen, also has a pretty extensive slaw obsession. Her archives (I promise you, that blue cheese one is delicious) and ideas for slaw variations are truly impressive. I have seen several other CSA shares floating around the interwebs with big, fat heads of cabbage… Join the slaw challenge and let me know how it goes (and what combinations of veggies you used – I am always looking for inspiration) in the comments!