Cabbage salad, in various incarnations, has been around for hundreds of years. Most original recipes involved vinegar. Pickling is, after all, a great way to preserve produce. And mayonnaise is a mid-18th century newcomer. But the creamy style we know today stems from that mid-century period. That familiar mayonnaise dressing has become integral, even expected, to the concoction. Ubiquitous and frankly dull, it seems to be at most summer get-togethers, from BBQs to pot-luck tables.
I cannot stand it anymore.
Some people omit the mayonnaise, dress it with vinegar, salt, and sugar, and the dish ends up with the flavor of a tart three-bean salad, not a slaw. Asked to make the cole slaw for a party, I knew it was time for a change.
This variation is so lively, colorful, and fresh, it perks up any table. While it has an absolute Thai influence, the flavors won’t overwhelm the rest of the meal, as long as you are judicious when adjusting the seasoning. It stores beautifully in the fridge for a couple of days, and it is extremely quick and simple to prepare. The one advance prep step is the seasoned vinegar. But I recommend you do this step soon. You’ll find that the favors of lemongrass and ginger will liven up some of your own favorites, too!
What You Need
Extra-large bowl for mixing and serving
Fine grater for the ginger
1 1/2 T. soy sauce
1/4 C. rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp. sesame oil
1/2 tsp. chili oil
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 C. olive oil or half olive and half extremely fresh peanut oil
1/2 C. cider vinegar
2 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
1 one-inch piece of fresh ginger plus some for grating
1 stalk lemon grass
2 T. fresh chopped mint
1/2 head cabbage
1/2 head red cabbage
1 small red onion or half a larger one
1 small red pepper
1 small orange or dark yellow pepper
1/4 – 1/2 C. shredded carrot
Salt to taste if needed
1/2 tsp. finely (and carefully) chopped jalapeño pepper if desired
1/4 C. chopped peanuts
1/4 C. freshly chopped cilantro
What To Do
Finely chop the lemon grass stalk and the ginger. Put them in a glass jar with the cider vinegar. Allow the jar to sit for a few days in the fridge. When you are ready to make the dressing, blend the soy sauce, chili oil, sugar, garlic, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, and red pepper flakes in a medium bowl. Strain the lemon grass/ginger vinegar into the bowl or jar. Add the oil and blend thoroughly. I like to use a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid to shake the contents.
Slice the cabbages as thin as you can easily and reasonably. Don’t labor over the thinness; step two is to coarsely chop the slices. Transfer the cabbage to the large bowl. Chop the onion and add to the bowl. Slice the peppers crosswise, then lengthwise, and add them to the bowl. Add the grated ginger. You can use some powdered ginger in a pinch, or to heighten the flavors. If you are going to use the jalapeños, add them at this point.
Shake up the dressing and pour it on the cabbage salad. Toss to combine. Now it’s time to adjust the seasonings. I happen to like vinegar so I added additional cider vinegar to mine. You can adjust just about every aspect of the seasoning, even the sesame oil, as long as you blend the salad well each time.
Leave the slaw out at room temperature for two hours or so to allow the flavors to meld. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts, and cilantro. Serve and enjoy!
By Lisa Reitman Dobi