Sublime Summer Slaw
Tender early season lettuces have yielded to full-blown summer veggies now for our salads. In restaurants that make wonderful salads (Dudley's on Short and Alfalfa are two favorites), servers must surely notice we nearly salivate when we look at their salad offerings.
At home, too, summer salads seem to slake both hunger and thirst when the heat index goes skyscraperish, as we're experiencing in central Kentucky right now. In the heat and humidity, our Campsie kitchen developed a new, seasonal obsession over the past 10 days: crunchy slaw with a vinaigrette dressing that nods a bit eastward, topped with toasted seeds.
Fresh local cabbages are in all the farmers' markets now. We are also finding local young carrots, the first peppers (sweet chili and sweet banana, for example), and many fresh herbs to invigorate this cool, crunchy dish.
Slaw is a flexible, forgiving dish that hardly needs a recipe, since many of us simply use what we have. Yet for new cooks, a guide to approaching summer slaw may prove useful. Items in ALL CAPS below are ones we particularly like this summer.
To make a slaw worth of turning into an obsession at your house as well, collect good cabbages, other crisp veggies like these:
- Green and purple CABBAGE
- Sweet peppers, and hot ones too, if you like
- Fennel or celery if you have some
- Fennel fronds
Clip or buy fresh herbs such as these:
- Fresh CILANTRO
Before you begin chopping and slicing, put about 1/3 cup of raw PUMPKIN SEEDS, sunflower seeds, walnuts or pine nuts in a skillet or toaster oven, and toast over low heat until they change color slightly and you can smell them. Set your toasted crunchy topping aside to cool as you make the slaw.
Now sliver about three pounds of the hard veggies and put them in a large bowl. We use the "fine" slicing blade on a food processor attachment. This slivering yields a more pleasing texture for a mixed vegetable slaw than the more traditional grating, which releases a lot of juices, which take some flavor and crunch with them into the bottom of your bowl.
Chop the herbs in small pieces with a sharp knife and add them to your bowl. Bruising does not add to herb's flavor or appeal, so quick, decisive cuts with your sharp knife work best.
A note about herb leaves and stems: Traditionally, herb leaves are removed from their stems for uses like this, and the stems are discarded. That works well, but it is not the only way. If you have a favorite herb and its stems are tender, experiment with chopping them fine and adding them to the slaw.
Now make a vinaigrette. We are working on a recipe that captures the dressing we have enjoyed most this summer. I'll share the latest iteration, and you can offer suggestions and tweaks.
Mix together well in a small glass jar or measuring cup: (baby bartender whisks, something like these, work perfectly for all the stirring in this vinaigrette) 1 teaspoon dry mustard 1 teaspoon sea salt Ground black pepper to taste; red pepper flakes and other peppers could be added to taste as well
Add and stir well to blend thoroughly: 1 teaspoon light sweet sorghum (or honey, maple syrup, or organic sugar) 1 teaspoon Tamari, soy, or Bragg Liquid Aminos 1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Add and stir thoroughly to thicken and perhaps even emulsify: 1/2 cup neutral oil (we used grapeseed oil, my personal favorite for such things) Juice of one lime, plus enough rice vinegar to yield 1/4 cup total acid
Put a well-stirred drop in a spoon and taste; adjust seasonings. The dressing should taste slightly too salty, as the saltiness needs to cover a large amount of vegetables.
Assemble your slaw. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and herbs in your bowl. With your hands or salad spoon and fork, toss thoroughly and separate all clumps so the ingredients are more or less evenly distributed. Add your crunch topping to the top (yep) and serve. Applause all around!
Eight more slaw notes:
- Vegetables that have a slick texture, like avocados and many cucumbers, can decrease the textural satisfaction of slaw.
- Slightly chewy, grilled corn kernels could be wonderful additions.
- Some people like to add golden or dark raisins to slaws. And some of THOSE people like to use dry roasted peanut as the crunchy topping. You may like this combination - I do.
- Grated fresh beets, sweet potatoes, or crisp apples are good in some slaw combinations.
- Experiment with adding up to 1 cup of cooked, cooled, chewy grain like whole brown rice or wheat berries.
- Go easy on all the herbs, particularly cilantro, and alliums (scallion, onion, chives). You want a community of flavors, not a dictatorship of a single dominating taste.
- Your slaw leftovers, if there are any, will keep in the refrigerator for about four days before becoming a bit too wilted to enjoy. Your crunchy topping will lose crunch but the slaw itself will be cold and refreshing each time you scoop some out and eat it.
- If you are following along the whole series of these 116 Savory Kentucky Bites, you may notice that only one day ago, in Savory Bite 11, Savoring Kentucky touted the wonders of adding a small bit of Blue Moon Garlic Pesto to a vinaigrette. Yabut not this vinaigrette! Try this French vinaigrette for that purpose.