New Orleans Slaw

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Before Boston Market became the big chain that it is, my home town rotisserie chicken restaurant was a small place called … well I don’t even remember what it was called. I don’t even remember the chicken. What I do remember is what they called New Orleans Salad which was really a type of caraway-heavy, no-mayo coleslaw. I don’t know where New Orleans came into the picture but for years after the place went out of business I tried desperately to recreate that coleslaw.

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It didn’t help that during the time when I ate most of this salad I didn’t care much about what flavors I could pick out of a dish. The caraway stuck out only because it was such a prominent taste in the dish. Other than that I had almost no clues to go on. I tried and failed for a while and then resigned myself to finding a new favorite vinegar-based coleslaw.

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I don’t have much time for the traditional mayo-based, thick and heavy coleslaws that come in a little cup on the side of an otherwise delicious meal. When I make it at home, which happens quite often in winter when our CSA delivers a lot of cabbages, the salad is dressed with something vinegar-based. Not only does it make for a good flavor, the vinegar also helps break-down the cabbage a bit so that the raw stuff is a little mellowed.

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A few weeks ago, I was searching for a new dressing when I spied a new no-mayo slaw in my copy of Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. I tried it out, let the salad sit for a half hour to let the flavors meld, and then took a bite. After giving up on it, this was the coleslaw I’d been looking for all along. True, his recipe doesn’t have caraway seed but otherwise the flavor was just what I remembered. And the ingredients couldn’t be easier. A batch keeps for about a week and gets better over time, so you can guess what will be in my fridge this winter.

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New Orleans Slaw

Makes 8 to 10 servings*

1 medium head of cabbage, shredded (about 4 cups worth)
3-4 carrots, shredded (about 1 cups worth)
2 bell peppers, shredded (about 1 cups worth)**
2 tbs caraway seed – whole
3 tbs red wine vinegar
2 tbs Dijon mustard
¼ cup canola oil (or other neutral oil, not olive oil)
1 tsp kosher salt

In a large bowl, toss together the vegetables. Scatter the caraway seed on a cutting board and gently bruise it with a rolling pin – this will help release some of the flavor. Combine the seeds, vinegar, mustard, oil, and salt in a small bowl and whisk it all together with a fork.

Pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss to combine. At this point it may look like there’s barely enough dressing to cover the salad but it’s ok – you don’t need more. Let the slaw sit for at least half an hour and then toss it again. At this point the cabbage should be a little softer and it will have given up a little water so the dressing will coat the slaw better. The slaw will keep for up to a week and it improves after a day or two in the fridge. Serve it cold or at room temperature.

*Not sure how to serve this? Besides eating it as a side dish for lunch of dinner you can top it with scrambled eggs or leftover meats and make it a meal, stir fry it quickly to give it a different texture and flavor, or add it to a sandwich or wrap instead of lettuce.

** You can use any type of cabbage and also include shredded broccoli, shallots, red onion, celery, radish, or fennel. The only requirement is that in the end you should have about six cups worth of shredded raw vegetable. I like a more colorful salad but an all-white slaw with just cabbage and radish could also be beautiful. Choose your own adventure.

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