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Adapt classic coleslaw to diverse flavors

Coleslaw, mentioned in this blog’s previous post, is a side that many associate with summer.

Indeed, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in July published a collection of recipes for picnics and potlucks. Among such classics as pasta salad, chicken salad, potato salad and egg salad was this recipe for coleslaw.

In my household, however, coleslaw is much more common when the weather cools. That’s when so many produce items aren’t — strictly speaking — fresh, or they hail from the Southern Hemisphere. Hardy, long-keeping cabbage, by contrast, has been one of humanity’s winter staples as long as we’ve been cultivating food.

It’s this time of year when I rely on cabbage to cleanse the palate of meat’s savor and root vegetables’ starch. Those foods also need cabbage’s fiber to aid their digestion.

The trick for keeping cabbage interesting is to treat it as a canvas for your favorite flavors. In my kitchen, there isn’t a singular coleslaw, but rather numerous iterations, depending on which other produce items are available and the overall mealtime concept.

Sometimes I augment shredded cabbage with julienned apples and golden raisins soaked in cider vinegar (the kids’ favorite). Sometimes it’s fennel, orange zest and rosemary with sherry vinegar. Sometimes it’s radishes, scallions, cilantro and sesame seeds with rice vinegar and fish sauce.

Coleslaw dressing could be plain yogurt, mayonnaise, sour cream, a combination or just a drizzle of flavorful oil, such as sesame. There’s really no need to measure. Just mix it up to your tastes.

To start off on the right foot, though, here is the basic recipe for what most Americans identify as coleslaw. Its overall creamy character is cut with a bit of mustard, vinegar and caraway.

Tribune News Service photo

Creamy New York Deli Coleslaw

1 head red or green cabbage (2 pounds), cored and shredded (12 to 14 cups)

Salt, as needed

1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons white vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Pepper

2 carrots, peeled, seeded and grated

1 small onion, peeled and minced

Toss the cabbage with 1 teaspoon of the salt and allow to sit in a colander for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours. Meanwhile, the toast caraway seeds in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant, for about 3 minutes.

Rinse the cabbage, then thoroughly pat dry with paper towels. In a bowl large enough to hold finished slaw, whisk toasted caraway seeds with the mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, sugar and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Add the cabbage, carrots and onions, and toss. Chill at least 1 hour before serving. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

May be prepared up to 1 day in advance and freshened with a spoonful of mayonnaise and a dash of vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Recipe from “The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.”