Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Not your average cole slaw

My recent posts would have you believe that I am a carnivore with expensive tastes chugging cholesterol by the cupful. So it might come as a surprise that most of our dinners in the past 2 months have been not only cheap, but healthy and vegetarian. We allow ourselves luxuries like tuna sashimi, kurobuta pork, kampachi, and burgers (yes, burgers are a luxury if you are counting calories instead of dollars) once a week or so, and they are great fun to write about. But since we subscribe to a farm share, we get a huge box of veggies every week and that's mostly what we eat.

Why have I not written about it? I am not sure. I guess I finally got a taste for what it's like to have a really good story. My stories on tuna, pork, and burgers just poured out of me. They were familiar and intimate, like old friends. These were foods I cared passionately about, foods I thoroughly researched, foods I fought so hard to improve. I've given these posts days to marinate and mature and I've taken care to take the best pictures I possibly could to entice you to read them.

What makes me sad is that I can’t seem to figure out how to work all those beautiful veggies into my blog. To begin with, I don't have a good story. Carrots, lettuce, and radishes are not particularly controversial, and there are no fishmongers or butchers to chat with. We just show up every Thursday in someone’s apartment building and pick up our box. I am sure Dan, our farmer, is a fascinating person, but I haven’t met him since the farm is 2 hours away from Boston.

The pictures have not been anything to brag about either. I find it much harder to take pictures of veggies than of fish and meat. Besides, I am usually too tired and hungry on a weeknight to care. And did I tell you what a pain it is to write the recipes for this stuff? I don't normally measure anything when I cook, so I can't write down the measurements unless I've done a dish at least twice (first time I just do what feels right; second time I try to recreate it using measuring cups). The problem is I never know what will be in the box the next week, so it's rare that I make any dish more than once.

Now that I am done complaining, I can tell you that I am having an absolute blast. I don't think I've ever had as much fun with veggies, and I am really worried about having to go back to the super markets (even Whole Foods) in November. I've been spoiled for life. The salads have been just spectacular. The baby carrots, beets, and turnips -- outstanding. The ratatouille I made out of zucchini and tomatoes tasted just like it did in France -- not at all comparable to the tasteless zucchini from the store. Our farm newsletter said that this hasn't been the best year so far. They give it a B- due to a ridiculously huge amount of rain. But although the quantity might have suffered some (I really wish we could get more of those awesome zucchini), the quality has been great.

What has been the most interesting vegetable that we've gotten? Well, I've never tried garlic scapes or mustard greens before, and I liked them both. But what I find most interesting about this farm share experience is not trying new veggies, but falling in love with the familiar ones all over again. Take cabbage for example. I am Russian, and even I can't muster much enthusiasm for it in the summer. Don't get me wrong -- braised cabbage is one of my favorite things in the whole world, but it's not very summery with all that butter and mahogany color. In my last 10 years of cooking, I can’t remember ever purchasing a cabbage in the summer.

When we got cabbage in our farm share last week, I was stumped. The newsletter suggested cole slaw, which didn't get my hopes up until I read the ingredients. I usually think of cole slaw as a goopy concoction that accompanies sandwiches in American delis. But when I saw lime juice as one of the ingredients on the newsletter I had one of those “Aha” moments. In my excitement I didn't even finish reading the recipe. I shredded up the cabbage, tossed in some chopped scallions and cilantro that happened to be in our box that week, squeezed one large juicy lime over the whole thing, tossed in a generous dollop of grainy mustard, salt, and a little sugar. Then I mixed it all in a large bowl with my hands. You could hear the cabbage crunching, wheezing, and soaking up all that yumminess. All I can say is – mmm :) Even Jason, who claims to be “allergic” to the idea of cole slaw liked it. Since we got another head of cabbage, this week, I made it again measuring everything this time. I threw in some carrots since they were in the farm share, but they are really optional.

Cole Slaw

Serves 4

1 small head of cabbage (5-6 inches in diameter)
1/4 cup chipped scallions
2 Tbsp chopped herbs of your choice (cilantro, mint, parsley, etc)
2 Tbsp lime juice (from 1 large lime)
2 Tbsp grainy mustard
2 Tbsp olive oil
1-1/2 tsp kosher salt or to taste
3/4 tsp sugar

Cut the cabbage in half through the core. Remove the core. Shred using an adjustable blade slicer, or cut into smaller pieces and shred with a slicing disk in a food processor. In a large bowl, combine cabbage with the rest of the ingredients and mix with your hand until all the seasonings are evenly distributed. Taste and correct seasoning.


Fennel Cole Slaw
Substitute half of cabbage with fennel sliced paper thin on a mandolin

Apple Cole Slaw
Throw in some finely diced apples.

Red Currant Cole Slaw
In Russia, we put fresh cranberries into our sauerkraut for a little zing. It’s a wrong time of year for cranberries now and they won’t have enough time to soften anyway since you are not pickling the cabbage here. But tart little red currants are a perfect summer equivalent. Let me just clarify here that red currants have nothing to do with little raisins called “currants” that you put in scones. Red currants are very tart little summer berries that can be tricky to find in US, but I am starting to see them more and more.


Tanna said...

I'm liking these cole slaw variations!

Trey said...

That's a lot like my Mom's old recipe for cole slaw.

She also used to make a light sweet salad with raw broccoli, green olives, sliced hard-boiled eggs, and some other things I have forgotten. It was unlike anything else I ever tasted. I'm not sure I recommend it as is :), but on the other hand an unusual juxtaposition of ingredients can sometimes be the leaping off point for a nice and novel recipe.

Helen said...

Hey Trey,

That actually sounds like a cool twist on Salad Nicoise. It's a combo of green beans, olives, hard boiled eggs, and tuna in a vinaigrette sort of dressing. But I don't see why broccoli wouldn't work as well as green beans.

Thanks for the idea :)


Michelle said...

I'm also in the Brookfield farm co-op and loved the recipe they distributed (even thought I hate any and all mayo based cole slaws). I love the addition of the scallions (we still have tons in the fridge from the last box) and the fennel and herbs from this weeks' box could go in as well!

Helen said...

Hi Michelle,

I haven't met any other Brookfield farm subscribers yet. Are you in Boston area?


Sandy, 샌디 said...

Hi, Helen,

Your coleslaw looks great! I'm a veggie person - they form 80% of my diet - and I've only used lime for my daily fruit salad dinner.

You could try adding orange juice too - i love it with carrot, raisins and cashew nuts!

Looking forward to more salad recipes on your blog ; )



Kalyn said...

I’m spotlighting this recipe today on a feature I call “South Beach Recipes of the Week.” It includes your photo (with a photo credit for you, of course) and a link to the recipe. Please let me know if you have any thoughts about how I’ve done this.

Gourmetish said...

That looks delicious. I'm curious, though, does it provide enough of a "dressing"? I'll have to try your recipe soon..any preference when it comes to herbs?

Andrea said...

Wow, this sounds fabulous. I don't think you need to wait for a "story" to write about the vegetables. Just continue to write from your heart and it is terriffic reading and inspiration!