A few years ago a friend offered to cook for me. He told me he was making a slaw. It took me a moment to understand what he meant. Slaw? Like cole slaw?! Mayo-coated cabbage? "I love slaw," he said.

Yup, slaw. And soon thereafter I was convinced.

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Since then I've made dozens of slaws, serving them as side dishes and main courses. I've had it slid into sandwiches, spread onto tacos, and scooped onto soups.

Cabbage is Key

Cabbage is the traditional base for slaw, and with good reason. Cabbage has a great, crunchy texture, plus it's super healthy and inexpensive.

Cabbage is harvested at the end of the fall. The cold-hardy vegetable be placed in your refrigerator and kept well into the winter. If outer leaves start to yellow or wilt, simply pull them off and dig into the inner layers.

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You can easily use the light green and bright purple round heads for the base of your salad. Simply slice the whole heads into long, thin strips. The dense heads will produce a shocking amount of slaw once the strips are fluffed up, so have a nice big bowl handy.

Or is it?

Big round cabbage heads aren't the only possible bases for your slaw.

Napa cabbage, with it's light, crinkly leaves, is also an excellent base (on its own or mixed with traditional cabbage heads).

Brussels sprouts, a close vegetal relative to cabbage, can also be used as a slaw base. Slice the sprouts thinly, taking out the solid base, and fluff as you would with cabbage. Brussels sprouts can be eaten raw, though some prefer to quickly wilt them in a pan with hot oil.

Alternatively, skip the base and just get creative with the fillers. Carrots can make a great salad base, as you may have read earlier on the blog. Smitten Kitchen has a great recipe for broccoli-based slaw. As people get more adventurous with vegetables, I've heard more and more about the merits of slaw made with kohlrabi, an alien-looking relative of the cabbage.

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Additions

The key to slaw is your own creativity and the bounty of items that can be added. It's important to make a plan and not just add things willy-nilly. At the same time, let yourself be creative and adventurous; don't limit yourself to this list of suggestions.

If you have a mandolin, slaw is easy, a most of the veggies can be run along the tool to get uniform matchstick pieces. If not, consider grating the most solid add-ons, and thinly slicing more tender additions. Some items, like nuts or grains, can simply be sprinkled on at the end.

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Here are some suggestions to get you started:

Grate

  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Radish

Thinly Slice

  • Red onion
  • Scallions
  • Celery
  • Fennel
  • Jicama
  • Broccoli
  • Kohlrabi
  • Sweet red or green pepper
  • Jalapeño pepper
  • Apple (or asian pear)

Sprinkle

  • Toasted nuts (peanuts, almonds...)
  • Raisins or dried cranberries
  • Cooked grains (couscous, quinoa, rice...)
  • Tortilla chips (smashed), sesame sticks, or rice crackers
  • Fresh herbs (parsley, mint, tarragon, cumin, cilantro)
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Different Dressings

A basic mayo-based dressing can be good for some. It's made of mayo, with a little honey, vinegar, salt and pepper.

Smitten Kitchen has a great buttermilk dressing, which they put on a broccoli slaw and a napa cabbage salad.

Since we don't eat a lot of dairy, I usually opt for a mayo-free slaw, often taking it in an asian direction. I combine soy sauce, a little sesame oil, ginger, and mirin (rice wine vinegar), sometimes adding cayenne or Sriracha sauce for added kick.

Other good dressings can be made with ingredients like lemon or lime juice, olive oil, cumin, and fresh garlic.

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