Hi there! It’s so good to be back after a few days off.
How was your Thanksgiving?
My family and I gathered right outside of Philadelphia. We ate a lot (I’m sure you did too) and then the next morning, we ate some more. We stopped by Reading Terminal Market for a non-turkey lunch and a little bit of shopping. And then we had turkey leftovers for dinner.
I took a camera break which was nice, though I did miss the chance to capture the trees dressed in bright red, the oak leaves nearly as large as our thirteen-pound turkey.
But now life is back to normal, and today I’ve made a salad.
Well, it’s a slaw really. It’s from the Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It may seem odd that the first recipe I sample from a new cookbook would be a coleslaw, but this lady knows a thing or two about slaw. The cookbook itself has three slaws – one cabbage-cucumber-dill, one broccoli-almond-cranberry*, and the one I made today. Deb actually calls this one a salad — sugar snap salad with miso dressing — I suspect because half its bulk comes from sugar snaps (“mangetout”). The other half, though, is cabbage which in my mind fits it squarely into the slaw category.
The word coleslaw comes from the Dutch koolsla (kool = cabbage, sla, short for salade = salad) which comes from the Latin caulis (cauliflower stem). Slaw has been around since ancient Rome and was brought to America by the Dutch who planted cauliflower seeds in New York along the Hudson. (As I write, I can’t help but hum a little ditty.) Coleslaw started out as a vinegar-based salad of raw cabbage; the use of mayonnaise is a more recent modification. Let your coleslaw sit for too long (especially out of the fridge), and you’ll be gradually approaching the fermented territory of sauerkraut and kimchi.
While we’re on food history and etymology, the word salad is an interesting one too. It comes from the Latin sal (salt) and refers to dressing, which early on was a salty mild pickling brine. So, salad in essence was defined by its dressing.
Which brings me to back to Deb’s salad, er slaw, and its defining dressing. This miso-sesame dressing is magical and you don’t want to tinker with it. I reproduced it verbatim, and you should too.
The miso gives the dressing depth, earthiness, and a little sweetness – that umami that everyone’s always talking about. Did you know that both umami and miso share the Japanese root mi (味), taste or flavor? (I didn’t.)
Coincidentally**, I went to a lecture tonight entitled Microbes, Miso, and Olives where David Chang and Carles Tejedor talked about fermentation and how microbes create flavor. In addition to tasting Tejedor’s spherified yogurt and olive oil gel, we tried some of the latest goodies coming out of the Momofuku fermentation lab – cashew miso and olive tamari. There was a formula involving refractive index to explain why vinaigrette emulsions are cloudy. A few diagrams of chemical reactions producing glutamate (the main amino acid responsible for the umami flavor). Photos of Aspergillus oryzae (a fungus native to various parts of Asia and used in soy fermentation) under the microscope. And even a joke about a Microbiology lab at Harvard (“we send some of our creations to the professionals to sequence any microorganisms and to make sure nothing will kill us”). But in the end, Chang said he created his lab to “learn how to make things delicious through a study of umami.”
Which gets us (finally) back to the slaw and the dressing. On top of the miso and its umami, there is a double dose of sesame here from both tahina and toasted sesame oil. Make that a triple dose when you sprinkle the whole thing with toasted sesame seeds. The dressing is creamy and light, sticking to the cabbage, but not drenching it. It has the prefect amount of saltiness that mainly comes from the miso (no salt or soy sauce added). Dress everything a few hours in advance so the cabbage can wilt a bit as the miso and vinegar give it a quick pickle. I ate it for dinner, then lunch, then dinner again, polishing off half a cabbage in a day’s time. That’s a lot of cabbage. That’s how good the slaw is.
Deb, if you can make humble slaw shine, I can’t wait to try your flat roasted chicken. And your honey and harissa farro salad. And your red wine velvet cake. Your cookbook is already floating in a sea of yellow stickies.
And you, my friends, to reward you for slogging through this long (though I think fascinating) study of etymology with a side order of science, tomorrow we’ll eat some cookies.
*You can argue with Deb about whether broccoli can technically be a slaw, but let’s give her a little wiggle room here. It is her book. And despite the etymology, I too have used the term slaw to refer to broccoli (and even to collards).
** Seriously, it was a coincidence. I thought the lecture was going to be about dessert. Boy, was I ever wrong.
Cabbage slaw with miso-sesame dressing
I adapted this recipe from the sugar snap salad with miso dressing in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. I skipped the sugar snaps and traded carrots for radishes, but kept the dressing in pristine condition (though you could add a few drops of hot sesame oil to finish things off). Dress the salad lightly a few hours before serving to allow the cabbage to wilt and soak up all the dressing, then add more dressing if necessary. I used regular green cabbage, which needs a bit more time to wilt; if you want to use the more tender varieties such as savoy or napa, dress the salad only thirty minutes before serving.
- 1/2 large green cabbage
- 2 scallions
- 3 carrots
- 3 T sesame seeds
- 1 T minced fresh ginger
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 2 T white miso (I use Miso Master brand)
- 2 T tahina
- 1 T honey
- 1/4 C rice vinegar
- 2 T vegetable oil
- 2 T toasted sesame oil
Slice. Slice the cabbage, scallions, and carrots as thinly as you can with a knife or mandoline (I used a knife for the cabbage and scallions, a mandoline for the cabbage).
Toast. Toast the sesame seeds for 5-8 minutes in a 300ºF oven.
Shake. Mix the dressing ingredients in a jar, cover, and shake well to combine. You may need to add a little water to loosen up the dressing as the tahina has a tendency to thicken, especially as it gets cold. The consistency should be similar to a thick honey.
Eat. Dress the salad a few hours before serving and toss. If using more tender cabbages (savoy, napa), you’ll only need to do this about a half-hour in advance. Just before serving, sprinkle the slaw with the toasted sesame seeds.