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How I Learned to Love Coleslaw

July 08, 1993|FAYE LEVY

Coleslaw was not high on my list of favorite dishes when I was growing up in Maryland. The mayonnaise dressings with heavy doses of sugar simply didn't appeal to me.

But years later, when I was a young bride in Israel, trying to learn how to cook from books, I decided to try to make a batch. One of the books on my shelf, the 1963 edition of "The Good Housekeeping Cookbook," had 17 different versions of coleslaw. There had to be one I would like!

I skipped the standard salad with sweet-and-sour mayonnaise. I passed on olive coleslaw, which contained stuffed olives tossed with the cabbage and a note, "You may add five coarsely grated franks." The version dressed with bacon, eggs, sugar, vinegar, bacon fat and cream was out of the question. Green pea slaw, in which the cabbage is mixed with canned peas and topped with canned beets, didn't tempt me either.

I'm not sure what possessed me to choose coleslaw souffle salad, which contained lemon gelatin, mayonnaise and a little vinegar. My in-laws, who were used to Middle Eastern flavors, were bewildered by the sweet, yellow, jellied mass with bits of cabbage in it. They were probably wondering what their crazy American relative would come up with next. I have to admit, I didn't like it much either.

Finally a friend gave me a recipe for coleslaw dressed with a simple vinaigrette. The light, tangy oil-and-vinegar mixture was perfect with the cabbage. Later, I found similar salads in France. Some were garnished with fruit, which was a pleasant counterpoint to the delicately tart dressing.

Homemade coleslaw can be ready in minutes, now that many markets sell shredded green and red cabbage. You can even buy prepared coleslaw mix, which is simply shredded cabbage mixed with grated carrot. My local market recently began selling a variation called broccoli slaw, made of shredded broccoli stalks, a little red cabbage and grated carrot.

Although pre-cut vegetables do save time, hand-shredded cabbage is always fresher, and a lot quicker to prepare than you might think. You can use a food processor for large quantities, but for eight portions or less, I prefer to shred the cabbage with a knife--the pieces turn out longer and more attractive. All you do is cut the cabbage in half through the core, then place a cabbage half cut-side-down on a cutting board. Then cut the cabbage into thin slices with a large sharp knife; each slice separates into long, thin shreds.

Whichever dressing you prefer, add just enough to moisten the cabbage lightly. For crisp coleslaw, serve it as soon as possible. If you prefer it softer, refrigerate the salad for a few hours before serving.

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I learned to make this easy coleslaw in Paris. Red and green cabbage is combined with currants and topped with pecans and fresh orange and grapefruit segments.

LIGHT COLESLAW WITH CITRUS FRUIT 1/4 cup dried currants or raisins 1 quart shredded red cabbage 1 quart shredded green cabbage or coleslaw mix 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon oil Salt Freshly ground pepper 1 orange, peeled and divided into sections 1 grapefruit, peeled and divided into sections 1/4 cup pecan pieces

Rinse currants with warm water. Drain well. Place red and green cabbage in large bowl and mix in drained currants.

Whisk vinegar with oil and season to taste with salt and pepper in small bowl. Add to cabbage mixture and mix well until cabbage is evenly moistened. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Divide coleslaw among plates. Top each serving with orange and grapefruit sections and sprinkle with pecans. Makes 4 to 5 servings.

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This is a coleslaw with a smooth peanut butter dressing, accented with chiles, garlic, fresh ginger and lime juice. It's a great complement for the crunchy cabbage salad garnished with bean sprouts. The dressing can also perk up hot or cold cooked vegetables such as green beans, potatoes, cauliflower or broccoli.

COLESLAW WITH MALAYSIAN PEANUT DRESSING 4 cups shredded red cabbage 4 cups shredded green cabbage 1 cup shredded carrots Malaysian Peanut Dressing 1 medium cucumber, cut into thin sticks 2 to 3 hard-cooked eggs, quartered 1 cup bean sprouts Lime wedges

Mix shredded red and green cabbage with carrots in bowl. Add enough Malaysian Peanut Dressing, about 3/4 cup, to lightly coat vegetables. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Divide coleslaw among serving dishes. Serve each portion topped with cucumber sticks, egg quarters, bean sprouts and lime wedges. Serve remaining dressing separately. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Malaysian Peanut Dressing 1 large clove garlic 1 (1/4-inch-thick) slice peeled ginger root 1 fresh Thai or other small hot chile, seeded, optional 1 tablespoon oil 1/2 cup peanut butter 1 cup hot water 1/4 teaspoon turmeric 1 teaspoon brown sugar, packed 1/2 to 1 teaspoon anchovy paste, optional 2 teaspoons strained fresh lime juice Asian hot sauce or cayenne pepper Salt

Grind garlic in mini food processor along with ginger root and chile, or finely mince with knife.

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