Coleslaw, in one form or another, has been a part of the American dining experience since the late 19th century. What we now call coleslaw actually comes from the Dutch words for cabbage (“kool”) and salad (“sla”). But it’s still an American original because it was first made popular by the Pennsylvania Dutch.
What they knew then we still know to be true today. Coleslaw is the perfect accompaniment to summer dining.
That’s because when tender leafy greens begin to wilt in warm weather. Slaws stand up and gets noticed. In fact many varieties are actually better once they have sat around a day or two. Slaws are even highly portable. They don’t mind sliding around in tupperware on the back seat of the car. There is no need of last minute additions or fussy garnishes.
But it’s not just the reliable and sturdy nature of slaw that keeps it a staple of summer picnics.
No, slaws are also a lively and refreshing combination of tastes and textures that seem to appeal to most everyone’s taste buds. While it is true the mix of cabbage and creamy dressing is certainly a slaw classic; there are vibrant vinegar versions as well.
Still, to me, there is something auspicious and steady about the peppery bite of raw cabbage harmonizing so admirably with the sweet-tart flavor of a traditional mayonnaise-based dressing. I am probably not alone in this assessment, as I think a great many people consider coleslaw a comfort food.
Though coleslaw is as iconically American as that oft-mentioned apple pie; it still lends itself to all sorts of experimentation.
Imagine a Moroccan spiced carrot slaw. Daikon radish, ginger, and Napa cabbage in a spicy soy and peanut dressing has a decidedly eastern flair. I would certainly swoon over the bold complexity of a vinegary cabbage slaw with apples and bacon.
So what I am saying is, there is no reason to limit yourself to the Cole crops of the Brassica family. These include kale, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, and kohlrabi, among others, and they all make fantastic slaws. But why not explore other vegetables, or even fruits the next time you feel an urge towards culinary creativity.
The basic concept behind coleslaw is a simple combination of crisp, well-paired shredded vegetables. These are tossed and steeped in a flavorful marinade, then served once the flavors marry some. So you can see how easily accommodating this formula might be.
I am craving classically-styled creamy coleslaw. To me there are very few slaws better than a good southern-style Memphis coleslaw. This creamy, mustard-based version is a staple on BBQ pulled-pork sandwiches.
But I like the tang of mustard so much that I think this pungent version is a great side dish too. It’s also a great jumping off point in creating a classically creamy slaw with the added power of hot pepper and sweet summer corn.
So I am giving you my version of what I consider to be the classic southern coleslaw. Of course my version isn’t quite like your grandmother’s 4th of July crowd pleaser. Because I am adding a spicy blast of smoky heat in the form of Chipotle Mustard from Saucy Mama, and some zing from fresh jalapenos. Corn just seems the natural companion to these flavors, so I have added plenty.
Still, I am retaining the sweet-tart creaminess that is essential to a Memphis-style slaw and remains the source of its comfort-food roots.
Besides, this creaminess is most certainly responsible for the modern day versatility of this style of slaw. And, I believe, this versatility has paved the way for all sorts of “new fangled” slaws finding their way to our back patios and even the best chef tables.
2 cup fresh or canned cooked corn kernels
8 cups cabbage, shredded slaw style
1 cup green bell pepper, shredded slaw style
1⁄2 cup carrot, shredded slaw style
1⁄4 cup celery, thinly sliced crosswise
1⁄2 cup sugar
1⁄3 cup apple cider vinegar
1⁄2 cup Saucy Mama chipotle mustard
1⁄4 cup ketchup
1⁄4 cup mayonnaise
1⁄2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper, plus more to taste
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, ribs removed and minced
Combine the corn, cabbage, bell pepper, carrot, celery, and sugar in a large bowl and mix well. In a separate bowl combine the rest of the ingredients and blend until the dressing becomes smooth. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and mix it together well. Chill and serve.
SERIOUS FUN FOOD