Tag Archives: Salads

Slaw

Coleslaw with honey mustard dressing and caraway.Recently I was shocked to discover that many people have bad childhood memories of “creamy” coleslaw.  I was raised on chopped cabbage in mayonnaise, a creamy slaw that we called cabbage salad.  Many detest this side dish so much that they have given up slaw all together.

I’d like to vouch for a different style of coleslaw, one that has more in common with the German Krautsalat than the classic mayo-bound North American slaw.

The main difference is that it’s dressed in a vinaigrette, instead of mayonnaise or buttermilk.  But before we discuss dressing, there’s a very important technique to consider.

Lightly Curing Cabbage for Slaw

There are very few vegetables that I truly enjoy raw.  Good carrots, radishes, and snap peas are the only ones that come to mind right now.  I think every other vegetable is better once it has been roasted or blanched or pickled or at the very least lightly cured, as described here.

Once I have sliced my cabbage into thin strips 2 to 3″ long, I toss those strips with 1% of their weight in salt, and 1% of their weight in sugar.  In other words, for each kilo of sliced cabbage, add 10 g each of salt and sugar.  Mix thoroughly and let the cabbage stand at room temperature for about an hour.  The transformation that takes place is subtle, but important.

Raw sliced cabbage is a bit stiff: it tends to stand up, and sometimes it reminds me of straw in my mouth.

During this light curing process, the cabbage starts to leach a bit of liquid.  Not so much that it becomes desiccated; just enough to get the juices flowing.  It takes on a faint luster, a brighter green hue, and the ribbons of cabbage become ever-so-slightly limp.  And of course the cabbage takes on salt and sugar, enhancing the natural flavour of the vegetable.  The strips still have the crunch and mustardy bite of raw cabbage, but they are far more appetizing.

For Krautsalat the Germans and Austrians take this process a bit further, letting the cabbage sit for several hours, then aggressively pressing it to remove excess moisture.

The Dressing

Mustard and cabbage are friends.  They’re both brassicas, and they share a lot of the same flavour characteristics.  Apples and cabbage are also friends, though the reasons for this are much more mysterious to me.  The two main flavours of my slaw dressing are therefore mustard and apple cider vinegar.  I sweeten it with honey, and whisk it with canola oil.  If you want to add another level of flavour, try adding caraway, celery seed, and mustard seed.  My preferred slaw dressing is detailed in this post on vinaigrettes.

Uses

Slaw is an essential component of any barbecue, especially true barbecue like pulled pork.  It’s also a good accompaniment to ham, or fried meat, like schnitzel.  And it’s useful as a dish for picnics.

Allan’s Default Slaw

Ingredients

  • 1 kg raw cabbage, cored and sliced into thin strips about 2″ long
  • 10 g kosher salt
  • 10 g granulated sugar
  • 1 cup of the honey mustard dressing described in this post

Procedure

  1. Toss the cabbage, salt, and sugar in a large bowl and let stand until the cabbage has released some moisture and become slightly limp, 1 to 2 hours.
  2. Lightly press the cabbage and strain out the liquid that has settled at the bottom of the bowl.
  3. Toss the lightly cured cabbage with the dressing.

 

General Slaw Method

The procedure above can be used to make a number of different slaws and salads.  Carrot, for instance, or cucumber.  Lightly cure carrots in the manner described above, then dress them in tangy yogurt and mint leaves.

 

Salad Days

…I was gladdened to find, at last, hard scientific evidence that lettuce is an unsuitable food and that a craving for lettuce is evidence of a diseased brain.

-from Jeffrey Steingarten’s essay Brain Storm

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

-Ecclesiastes 3:1

 

Blushed butter oak lettuceFor many chefs there is a discrepancy between what they want to serve and what will please their customers.  As a chef I want to take seasonality seriously, but in most restaurants the owners and clientele find it unacceptable to not offer a green salad, even in the dead of winter.  I deeply resent this.

Don’t misunderstand me: I like green salads.  They’re refreshing. Personally, I like eating them after a rich meal like grilled steak.[1]  They’re a delicate, ephemeral expression of summer.  While they can’t truly satisfy without some bolstering by bacon or egg or bread, they are the very image and flavour of the season, the verdant, curling growth and pungent flavours of the plant kingdom.

That being said, our love of greens can only be described as mania, and folly.  There’s a detailed description of the green-growing operation at Earthbound Farms in The Omnivore’s Dilemma that puts the industry in prospective.  For an Edmontonian to stomp over frozen pavement and sit in a restaurant with foggy windows and order a green salad is nuts.  Especially considering how uninspired the standard offerings are: “spring mix” dumped from a plastic clamshell, tossed with some kind of seed or nut and some kind of dried fruit, then muddled with some kind of vinaigrette.

Let’s enjoy green salads now, then gracefully surrender them to the first frost.

 

Three Green Salads that I Enjoy Eating

Dandelion.  I’ve written about this before.  Possibly my favourite salad of all time: bitter dandelion greens from the yard with some combination of egg (hard-boiled or poached), bacon, garlic, bread (crouton or simply toasted), and mustard.

Styrian.  This is a salad that Lisa and I developed from our Tipi Creek vegetable shipments.  It’s comprised of arrowleaf lettuce, shaved kohlrabi, diced onion, and Styrian pumpkin seed dressing.  The sulphurous bite of the raw onion and the mustard-fart flavour of the kohlrabi make this salad profoundly Teutonic.  Radishes and horseradish are welcome substitutes/additions.  Styria is a region in Austria that produces superlative pumpkin seed oil.

Radish Greens.  No garnishes, just radish greens in honey mustard dressing, eaten alongside radishes and buttery biscuits.

Sliced radish, radish greens, and butter biscuits

 

1.  One of Brillat-Savarin’s famous aphorisms is translated thusly: “The proper progression of courses in a dinner is from the most substantial to the lightest.”

2.  Edmonton is starting to take the flavour of its greens seriously, thanks in large part to the Lactuca growing operation.  I think those guys are personally responsible for increasing the number of flowers consumed by Edmontonians by at least 1000%.

Dandelion Salad

Dandelion and rhubarb from the yard.At left is the first harvest from the yard, largely rhubarb and dandelions.

Describing dandelions as “edible” is misleading. The term suggests that they should only be eaten in survival situations. (Would you ever describe spinach, or cheese, or pork, as merely “edible”?)

In reality, dandelions are a treasured leafy green in several European cuisines. They even have an entry in Larousse. Some excerpts from that article:

  • “the English name is derived from the alternative French name dent-de-lion (literally ‘lion’s tooth’, referring to its serrated leaves)”
  • “Wild dandelion leaves should be picked before the plant has flowered…, when they are small and sweet.” This line confuses me a bit. While our dandelion leaves are definitely better when small and tender, I find that they still have a pronounced (but pleasing) bitterness. I have never tasted a dandelion leaf I would describe as sweet. Perhaps we have a different variety than the Europeans?
  • “In salads, dandelions are traditionally accompanied by diced bacon and garlic-flavoured croutons…, hard-boiled eggs or walnuts.”

I love dandelions because they are one of the first weeds to pop up after the snow melts. The bacon-dandelion salad mentioned in Larousse has become a cherished springtime lunch in my kitchen.

You can also give the roots and flowers a go.  The roots have the same bitterness as the leaves, obviously with an added crunch.  The flowers are very fun to eat.  They have a slight sweetness.

Instead of the classic hard-boiled egg I like to use a soft-poached egg.  When broken, the fatty yolk runs through the leaves and tempers their bitterness.  The dressing is usually made with cider vinegar, a touch of mustard, a touch of bacon fat, and canola oil.

This salad goes well with Weissbier.

Dandelion greens, toasted baguette, and a poached egg