Thursday, October 28, 2010

Coleslaw with "Creamy" Buttermilk Dressing

Regular readers of this blog (you know who you are, right, Mom?) will likely have discerned that my culinary emphasis is on flavor and creativity in the kitchen first and foremost. Healthfulness certainly comes in third after simplicity, which is also of great importance to me. To my partner of 18 years, however, healthfulness is undoubtedly number one. He exercises like mad and seeks to fuel his body with only things that are "good" for him, whatever that means! Having lived that lifestyle I can respect it, and frankly, many benefits of his dogged exercise regimen accrue to me directly, as many friends of mine who've seen pictures of Brian at the beach note with envy! Although I exercise a lot less nowadays, I believe that through mindful eating and an active lifestyle everything will balance out. I therefore will not categorically eliminate foods from my diet that are deemed unhealthy by the food police. I just (try to) exercise self-control and move towards healthful--and of course flavorful--alternatives.

For that reason my partner and I recently discovered that we enjoy eating vegetarian dinners one or two nights of the four to six dinners we make at home every week. We didn't declare that we want to give up red meat (that means bison in our house anyway, not beef) or anything. We just decided that we wanted to move in a positive direction towards an alternative. Partly this was born of wanting to eat less meat and save a big chunk of our weekly farmers market food bill as it can cost a bit of coin to buy chicken and meat from local producers only. But mostly the idea was born out of trying to ensure that the produce we'd purchased would be used up over the course of the week and there would be nothing lingering over into the next week and cutting into that week's farmers market haul. Even worse would be letting good food go bad for never having gotten around to preparing it. So many recipes, so little time!

Eating what is on hand all goes along with another predominant kitchen ethos of mine to eat down the fridge every week anyway. Most of us go to the market (whether a farmers market or a supermarket) and buy a week's worth of food and stuff it into the fridge, freezer, and pantry. Supermarket shoppers want to avoid going to the dreaded grocery store because it's usually such a hassle, and we farmers market goers usually have one shot a week on the weekend to bring home the week's ingredients for who knows what meal. Then, because we've packed everything into the fridge/freezer/pantry, we can't see or remember what's already been purchased and may end up letting it go bad, having to buy more of what we already had on hand! Eating down the fridge is the only way to combat this tendency, unless you're in the habit of buying on a daily rather than a weekly basis. However, with that approach, I just don't think that food that's been shipped from some central distribution center is going to be as fresh as what you can get at the farmers market, which was most likely picked the day before and will therefore have a longer shelf life in your fridge than what you might buy from the store anyway.

So this week's eating down the fridge challenge was to use up half of a very large head of cabbage whose other half was sauteed and simmered to make a sublime cabbage and rice soup/cabbage risotto for one of last week's vegetarian dinners. I had my favorite coleslaw with apple, fennel, and dill on my mind, but was also wistfully remembering the colesaw I'd had over Labor Day weekend at my sister-in-law's parents' house. She had made a slaw with mayonnaise that perfectly complemented the BEST SMOKED PULLED PORK SANDWICH I'VE EVER TASTED (pardon my shouting but that's how good that sandwich and meal under the stars were that evening)! My own slaw is healthy and vegan and delicious (are those listed in the wrong order?), but her version made with mayonnaise had something to say about what makes for a great coleslaw and I think the Hellman's real mayo was the most vociferous!

Apparently sister-in-law's mayo based slaw was in the recesses of my mind when I was contemplating my half head of cabbage when another foodie friend of mine said that he'd made his own interpretation of a turnip and apple slaw recipe in which he wanted to use up the bounty of turnips he'd gotten from our farmers market this past Saturday. Mindful that I also had some turnips to use up I asked for the recipe, which he shared, but that recipe also linked to another cabbage and turnip slaw recipe that had a buttermilk dressing.

The author of the buttermilk slaw recipe decried how heavy on the mayo many coleslaws are so she wanted a creamy dressing not laden with mayo. Hence her buttermilk slaw, which was a revelation to me! I think this is technically a ranch dressing, but it's not heavy at all, and is quite close to Ellie Krieger's take on the same riff, which would therefore make it Brian (my partner) approved. Frankly, I would make this dressing for any salad, not just coleslaw. I would even substitute yogurt, which we always have on hand, for the buttermilk, which I only had on hand so that I could make cornbread to serve at the women's shelter with the chili we made this past Monday. Since I have half a bottle of buttermilk still on hand, this dressing will be made again in the near future, along with some muffins or biscuits or something to use up the rest of that buttermilk (eating down the fridge as usual).

Brian howled when he saw me using mayo at all, even though mine is reduced fat. He started haranguing me about good fats and bad fats even though I was making the concession of low fat light mayo, which I normally wouldn't advocate but it has half the fat of regular mayo and a third of the fat of olive oil even. Those are my only arguments when he starts to balk at the thought of mayonnaise passing his lips. I should just buy the Hellman's Real, which at least has a recognizable list of ingredients!

I also like to make coleslaw because it's a good excuse to pull out my food processor and use its slicing and shredding accessories. Of course all of that slicing and shredding could have been done by hand but I don't award points just for doing something by hand. Simplicity demands the use of the processor, plus you get a finer shred with your knuckles intact. Maybe I could have used my mandolin to get matchsticks of the turnips, but I just shredded those and sliced the carrots and radishes. Unfortunately I didn't photograph my slaw but linked is a picture borrowed from the web. Below is my take on this delicious coleslaw, Joy of Cooking style:

Coleslaw with "Creamy" Buttermilk Dressing

Serves 6 to 8

In a bowl large enough to mix the coleslaw, whisk together
1/2 cup of buttermilk
3 tablespoons of mayonnaise
2 tablespoons of cider vinegar and
1 teaspoon of honey [I omitted]
until smooth. Season to taste with
salt and pepper
and set aside.

Using a sharp knife, quarter and core a
2 pound head of cabbage.
Rinse and trim the the tops and bottoms of
5 to 8 radishes
4 to 6 turnips [hakurei recommended] and
2 large carrots.
Using the slicing disk of a food processor with a large work bowl, thinly slice the cabbage and radishes. Peel the carrots. Using the shredding disk, shred the turnips and carrots. [Note: empty the food processor bowl as needed so that the sliced and shredded contents do not push up on the disk possibly cause your processor to seize up in its cover, which happened to me once and rendered my processor inoperable. Miraculously, Kitchen-Aid replaced it for free!] Combine the vegetables with the dressing and sprinkle with
1 teaspoon celery seeds.
Mix thoroughly and garnish with your choice of fresh herbs such as chopped
parsley, chives, cilantro, tarragon, or dill.

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