- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2006

In life there are few absolutes, the possible exception being risinggas prices and consumers vowing not to drive and then driving. But barbecued ribs always cry out for coleslaw.

Making barbecued ribs can be a complex undertaking, but coleslaw can be tossed together in minutes. Depending upon how it is made, it is not even particularly high in calories, although it can be, if we want.

From the Dutch words “kool” (cabbage) and “sla” (salad), coleslaw was originally just that: a cabbage salad, usually with mayonnaise dressing. But through the years it has evolved into a multicultural creature, as varied as our mixed cuisines and styles.

To make coleslaw, start with any vegetable that has been shredded or chopped, although chopped coleslaw somehow doesn’t seem quite right. Besides cabbage, excellent coleslaw candidates are carrots, jicama, celery root, napa cabbage, raw beets, hard squash, even mung bean sprouts (but make sure you add lots of onion or a spicy sauce, since sprouts can be rather dull alone). Shredded apples also make good coleslaw.

We don’t even need to shred since supermarket produce sections now sell bagged shredded cabbage. There are also bags of shredded carrots and something called broccoli coleslaw made of shredded broccoli stems mixed with carrots and red cabbage. Just add a dressing of choice.

On the farm, my great-grandmother made coleslaw dressing with whipping cream, skimmed from the top of the milk as it came in the house from the cow. Alas, there are no cows in my yard, so I have learned to improvise. Sour cream is good; creme fraiche is better. But don’t despair if your fridge is creme fraiche-deprived. Just mix equal parts of sour cream with mayo and add a tablespoon or two of cream. It’s not perfect, but coleslaw is not meant to be overthought. It’s one of those rare opportunities in life when imprecision is just fine.

If you don’t believe me, try out these fast dressings, tossed with shredded something: Bottled salad dressing of just about any kind.

m Mayonnaise thinned with a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar and sweetened with a tablespoon or two of brown sugar to taste.

• Vinaigrette of any kind. Try a plain mustard vinaigrette made by whisking together 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon white pepper, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, and 1/3 cup olive or vegetable oil. This makes about 1/3 cup, which is enough for about 4 cups of shredded vegetables.

If the plan is to tote coleslaw to a Memorial Day picnic, make sure it’s kept cold. In fact, for picnics, it is best to make it a little in advance and pop it into the fridge or freezer (watch carefully that it doesn’t freeze) to take it to an uber-cold temperature. (Beware of red cabbage, though, especially in the recipe that follows for red and green slaw with creamy fennel seed dressing. The dressing will turn pink if allowed to mingle overnight.)

For the journey to the picnic, place the chilled and covered bowl of coleslaw in a cooler containing ice (or wrap it tightly in newspapers, like our grandmothers used to do).

Eat it within two hours, and if there is any left over, return it to the cooler or discard it. Bacteria just love growing in coleslaw. Even slaws containing vinegar are friendly environments for bacterial growth. It isn’t worth the 50 cents’ worth of leftover slaw to possibly make yourself and/or friends and family sick later.

Coleslaw ingredient guidelines:

• 1/4 large cabbage equals about 4 cups.

• 1/2 small onion equals about 3 tablespoons minced.

• 1/2 or medium onion equals about 1/3 cup minced.

• 1/2 Honey and brown sugar can be used almost interchangeably in coleslaw recipes with good result. (Use a little less brown sugar.)

• 1 lemons equal about 1/3 cup lemon juice.

• A food processor does not grate nice long strands. Cut by knife. It’s a little more work, but you don’t need to clean the food processor bowl. (You undoubtedly know this but a reminder that red cabbage and red and yellow beets will stain the work surface they are chopped on. So don’t use your favorite cutting board if you don’t want a tie-dyed look.) To grate cabbage easily by hand, quarter it, core it and slice it 1/8-inch thick. The strands will be long enough but not so long that they are difficult to eat.

• 1 bunch of scallions contains about 8 medium scallions.

• 1 medium napa cabbage weighs about 1 pound.

• 1 16-ounce bag of coleslaw cabbage contains about 7 cups.

• 8 cups of shredded cabbage

• 3/4 to 1 cup dressing to moisten.

• 1 2-pound jicama makes about 8 cups shredded.

There. That was easy, wasn’t it? Now give it a try and serve it with ribs, either homemade or straight from the supermarket or deli. Assemble the coleslaw any way you like, either from scratch or a bag.

Jicama slaw with honey lemon dressing

1/3 cup lemon juice (about 1 lemons)

1/3 cup minced red onion

3 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup canola or corn oil

1 1/2 pounds jicama, julienned (about 5 cups)

Cilantro leaves for garnish, optional

In a food processor or small bowl, mix together lemon juice, onion, honey, salt and oil. Pour off any additional liquid that has collected in jicama. Toss jicama with dressing and sprinkle with cilantro, if desired. This is best if eaten immediately so that the jicama is still crunchy, but it becomes more like traditional slaw on sitting. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Last-minute coleslaw

1 16-ounce bag cabbage slaw (I like a mixture of red cabbage, green cabbage and carrot)

1 16-ounce bottle Ken’s Steak House Lite Caesar dressing, or dressing of choice

Open bag of slaw. Pour into bowl. Toss with as much dressing as desired. Eat immediately or let sit while you are making the rest of the meal. If not eating fairly soon, cover and refrigerate. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Red and green slaw with creamy fennel seed dressing

1/2 cup reduced-fat (but not nonfat) sour cream

2 teaspoons fennel seed

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons minced onion

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Several dashes white pepper

1/2 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise

1/4 green cabbage, cut in 1/8-inch thick shreds (about 4 cups)

1/4 red cabbage, cut in 1/8-inch thick shreds (about 4 cups)

In a large bowl (use a serving bowl, if desired), combine sour cream, fennel seed, vinegar, onion, sugar, salt, pepper and mayonnaise.

Add cabbages and toss to combine.

Serve soon, or enjoy a pink-looking slaw. (Red cabbage tends to tint mayo dressing pink.)

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Asian slaw

5 scallions, both white and green parts, divided

1/4 cup light soy sauce

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

Cayenne pepper

1/2 cup canola or corn oil

2 tablespoons sesame oil

10 ounces napa cabbage, cut in 1/4- to -inch-thick shreds (1 small cabbage; about 8 cups)

2 carrots, peeled and shredded

1/2 cup salted peanuts, chopped or whole

In blender or food processor, mince 1 scallion, then add soy sauce, vinegar, honey and dash of cayenne.

With motor running, add canola or corn oil and sesame oil.

Cut remaining scallions in half, shred and toss with shredded cabbage, carrots and peanuts.

Toss greens and peanuts with dressing.

Serve immediately so that coleslaw is still crunchy.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Kim Upton is editor of Tribune Media Services FoodStyles feature service.

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