Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Side Dish: Fennel Cabbage Slaw

Fennel Cabbage Slaw

½ head of green cabbage, shredded (4-6 cups)
1 medium fennel bulb, shredded (about 2 cups)
1 large carrot, grated
1 ½ cups mayonnaise
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
¼ cup apple juice
2 teaspons fennel seed, toasted and ground
Salt and pepper to taste

• Combine vegetables
• Combine dressing ingredients
• Toss dressing with cabbage mixture

Detailed Instructions
In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, fennel and carrot. In a smaller bowl, combine the dressing ingredients. Toss the dressing with the cabbage mixture. You can refrigerate this for a couple of hours before serving. If so, give it a good stir when you take it out of the refrigerator to redistribute the dressing.

Fennel is one of those vegetables that can be intimidating. Which part do you eat? Do you cook it or eat it raw? It’s not unlike a carrot, in that you’re supposed to lop off the fronds and eat the bottom, but unlike a carrot, it’s not a vegetable that we’ve been watching cartoon rabbits gnaw on since we were little tykes.

I happen to love fennel, both raw and cooked. It’s a great winter vegetable when you get tired of the usual suspects (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower). In the summer, it’s great raw, with the sort of cool refreshing flavor you get with cucumbers. In fact, I add it to my cole slaw every chance I get because I think it’s a nice flavor twist with the usual cabbage. Unlike cucumber, it’s not watery, so it doesn’t weep uncontrollably into the dressing and make it nasty. (Caveat: since all vegetables have a high water content, the dressing will eventually get nasty, but not in 30 minutes or an hour, the way it would if cucumbers were involved.)

So this recipe has a double shot of fennel, with the toasted ground fennel seed and the raw fennel. The toasted fennel seed gives the dressing another dimension—it’s not just mayonnaise cut with vinegar, as so many slaw dressings are. Also, sugar in slaw dressing makes it gritty to my taste. A little is needed to balance the vinegar, but the grit is off-putting. Since I was using apple cider vinegar in this, I decided to use the juice to sweeten it. I have four kids, so there’s always a gallon of apple juice lurking around in my refrigerator.

Fennel is one of those vegetables that will eventually oxidize and turn colors that we normally associate with a bad bruise. It takes a little longer, so you can safely make this the day before you serve it, but in my experience within two days it’s looking a bit suspect, and within three it has a distinctly sad appearance. It’s still fine to eat, and tastes OK, but after the second day I do take the time to cut the little darkened bits off the fennel when I eat the slaw. It seems to mostly change at the corners and tips, so they’re easily removed and pushed aside. However, you might want to take that under advisement in your planning.

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