Friday, July 06, 2012

Gingery Napa Slaw

It's one of those days when this column is unfolding in real time. Super-real time. Surreal time? Because even as I'm writing this, my children are sitting at the table, munching through giant bowls of this salad for lunch. It is hot-hot-hot today, and the salad is cool and crunchy, tart and sweet, and they are loving it. "Can you make this again soon?" Birdy asked, and I said, "I think there'll be plenty leftover for dinner," instead of saying, "Um, I just made it last night too." But I did. We were heading out to a July-Fourth potluck, and I tossed together a huge bowl of this slaw, and it was so utterly good and so utterly gone that I had to make it again pronto. Do you recognize the dressing? It's the same as the soba noodle bowl dressing from last week. I am kind of obsessed with it. So far, it appears to be good on just about everything: on an arugula salad, on brown rice, as a dip for sugar snap peas, as a marinade for tofu. . . I can't get enough.

And then the slaw is just crazy good. It's so addictive that if you bring it to a potluck, nobody will say, "Cabbage? Well isn't that just the cheapest thing!" Or "Yes, we also got a giant head of Napa from our farm share but were too generous to try and foist it off as an actual potluck dish." One friend, for instance, brought a trayful of lovely Vietnamese summer rolls that were stuffed with herbs and noodles and wrapped in translucent rice paper, each one like a perfectly wrapped present, with two dipping sauces {drool}. There were dishes with avocadoes, with artichoke hearts, with berries, with sunny sweet corn sliced from the cob. And me? I cut up a gimongous head of cabbage, dressed it, tossed it with some toasted almonds, and it was like I'd carried the torah around for everyone to kiss (bar mitzvah joke). Everybody loved it. So, if you need a getting-away-with-something dish in your repertoire, I really recommend this one. Plus, there's something about the balance of sweet, tangy, and salty, something about the Asian flavors or the crunch slivers of almonds, that makes it so that kids love this coleslaw, even if the mayonnaise kind leaves them cold (even as I say this, I am thinking of all the mayonnaisey cold slaws I have known and loved: like that finely-chopped one at KFC, which I haven't eaten in the years since swearing off of fast food but which I would very nearly sell my soul for). I don't always understand children, but they do like this, and I am learning to let the mystery be.

Gingery Napa Slaw
Serves 8
Total time: 20 minutes

I love Napa cabbage--the way it simultaneously wilts and stays crunchy in a dish like this. Also, we have tons of it. But I'm guessing a regular head--or half head--of green cabbage would work too, though I might let it sit a bit before serving. You will have dressing left over, and you will not be sorry. Oh, also: feel free to use roasted salted peanuts instead of the home-fried almonds. I go back and forth.

2/3 cup peanut or vegetable oil, divided use
3 fat scallions, white and healthy green, sliced (around 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 large head of Napa cabbage, slivered (I just cut through the whole head)

Heat a tablespoon of the oil in a small pan over medium-low heat and sauté the scallions until wilted and fragrant, around 3 or 4 minutes. In a food processor or with a hand blender, whir together the scallions with the remaining ingredients until the dressing is thick and emulsified. Taste for salt, sugar, acid, and overall balance, and re-season as necessary.

In the unwashed scallion pan over medium heat, fry the almonds until golden, around 2-3 minutes. Remove to a small bowl so they don't burn in the hot pan. (Or go ahead and burn them!)

In a large bowl, toss the cabbage with half the dressing and taste, then add more dressing if the slaw needs it, tossing and tasting as you go. Top with the almonds and serve.

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