I am a bit embarrassed to credit my profound love for coleslaw to the one version we have surely all tried before: KFC’s delicious complement in a styrofoam cup with a plastic lid. My dear mother, however, was also a big fan of preparing it at home whenever we had hot dogs, so I learned from very early on that the delicious salad was not something exclusive to the tastes of the fast food industry. And the best part of making it at home was all the different things you can use it for!
Considered a salad, coleslaw consists primarily of finely-shredded raw cabbage dressed with a vinaigrette salad dressing, which makes it safe to keep pickled for up to four weeks if stored properly. It’s generally eaten as a side dish with foods such as (yummy, yummy) fried chicken and barbecued meats – duh! – or as a sandwich ingredient on barbecue sandwiches, hamburgers and another classic: hot dogs. Raw cabbage is literally the only entirely consistent ingredient in the different coleslaw varieties around the world, as all the other added ingredients are drastically different from land to land. Cabbage is such a curious leafy green, and aside from the pickled recipes we know worldwide, it was until I came to Germany that I realized: 1. just how many types of cabbages exist, and 2. how cold & harsh life can be when cabbage makes up such a huge part of your diets.
Sauerkraut & Rotkohl are huge around here – and by huge, I mean yuge! – and have been for a long, long time now. A well-known (somewhat derogatory) stereotype, Germany’s love for sauerkraut stems from their overall soft spot for cabbage. The funny thing to me is just how lovingly they have embraced the bland vegetable, not limiting it to Sauerkraut & Rotkohl (Sauerkraut’s red brother). So, of course, I had to do my research on how & why such a vegetable became the ultimate delicacy in a country so magnificent & centrally-located as Germany.
I read all about the explorer Captain James Cook, and how he set sail for the South Pacific in 1768 taking with him 7,860 pounds of Sauerkraut to help ward off scurvy, a disease resulting from the lack of Vitamin C. Apparently, this made Germans believe that Sauerkraut was in many ways the first super food, packed with the much needed Vitamin C and not to mention how it could be stored for a long, long time – something absolutely necessary in the pre-refrigeration days! Oh, how very German of them, purpose above pleasure. Sadly, German cooking has always been somewhat of a disappointment to the rest of the world, even back when the Romans occupied the Rhineland, they found that what the Germans were eating and drinking was awful! To their defense, I would simply call it all an acquired taste!
European eaters are considered a conservative bunch in general. However, France’s gastronomy was forcibly improved when revolutionaries lopped of the nobles’ heads and drove their chefs into the restaurant trade. This did not happen in Germany, though, where the cooks of Protestant priests and housewives who maintained traditions led the culinary scene since forever, remaining faithful to their beloved vitamin-packed cabbage, which ultimately ended up paralyzing German cooking. The difference is unimaginable. Our next door neighbor French cuisine versus German cuisine is unbelievably different. I will close this discussion on cabbage stating the less-than-obvious reason it has remained such a star in the local culinary scene. Germans are proud of their products. Proud of their German-made cars, proud of their German-made everything, including their beloved Sauerkraut & Rotkohl! I can appreciate this feeling a whole lot more now.
For the Coleslaw
- 1 small head of green cabbage (about 2 pounds)
- 1/2 cup of mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup of white vinegar
- 1/4 cup of milk
- 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons of sugar
- Salt & pepper
- 1 teaspoon of dill
- 1/2 cup of grated carrots
Remove the outer leaves and core from 1 small head of green cabbage. Finely shred or chop by hand (or in a food processor), for a total of around 8 to 10 cups. I like my coleslaw really finely chopped, but for hamburgers or as a simple salad side, it’s also great when the cabbage is only roughly chopped. Place it all in a deep bowl and pour in the mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, sugar, & lemon juice. Blend well, tossing well to coat. Stir in the milk & rest of the ingredients and enjoy the many uses coleslaw offers!