Food snobs are torn between two competing and equally powerful interests in winter: the desire to eat local produce, and the desire to eat salad. Tender greens are hard to come by in most non-tropical regions, whose climate usually favors starchy root vegetables. Cheaters go for imported or greenhouse lettuce; almost everyone else is stuck with cabbage.
Fortunately, raw cabbage is delicious: crunchy, refreshing, aromatic in that mustardy cruciferous-vegetable way.
Unfortunately, the most popular cabbage salad in America by a long shot is coleslaw. (The name itself comes from the Dutch for “cabbage salad”: The people who came from Holland to what is now New York grew cabbage and shredded it to make koolsla.) In the best of circumstances (supremely fresh cabbage, homemade mayonnaise, etc.), coleslaw could be good. Back in the real world, though, it’s usually soggy, bland, cloying, and terrible. It also just feels wrong in winter—once you’ve mentally associated something with barbecuing, it’s hard to eat it when it’s snowing outside.
A better option for the icy months is a cabbage salad accessorized with bold and rich secondary ingredients. The type of cabbage you use is relatively unimportant: I like red cabbage for its sturdy texture and gorgeous color, but green and Savoy are options if you’re less interested in your food’s visual appeal. What’s important is what you add: gorgonzola, walnuts, and golden raisins.
Full disclosure: Adding gorgonzola, walnuts, and golden raisins will make almost any vegetable—hell, any food—taste amazing. But they’re particularly wonderful with raw cabbage, balancing its crisp wholesomeness with a healthy dose of extravagance. And they play off one another, both texture- and flavor-wise, perfectly: Sweet, chewy raisins; mild, waxy nuts; and pungent, creamy blue cheese combine to form a trio far greater than the sum of its parts, like The Police.
Palatability aside, this red cabbage salad is one of the quickest, easiest dishes you can make, either as a side or as a simple weeknight supper. The only mildly difficult step is shredding the cabbage, which you can do with the shredding disk of a food processor or with a chef’s knife: Just slice the cabbage as thinly as you can, and then cut the slices into inch-long pieces (the layers will fall naturally into shreds). The first time you do it, it feels like a miracle—almost as good as it feels to eat the salad.
Red Cabbage Salad
Yield: 1 or 2 main-course servings or 4 side-dish servings
Time: 10 minutes
¼ large head red cabbage, cored and shredded
1 to 2 ounces gorgonzola or other blue cheese, crumbled
⅓ cup chopped walnuts
⅓ cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and black pepper
Put the cabbage, cheese, walnuts, raisins, oil, and vinegar in a medium bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Toss, taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve immediately.
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