I tend to wax philosophically about slaw, only because it’s such an easy salad and there are so many ways to make it. There’s the classic coleslaw which is made of shredded cabbage and carrots with a creamy mayonnaise-based dressing. But there are so many possibilities to change it around.
This time of year we have abundant greens like kale, bok choi, young beets, radishes and swiss chard. I simply shred whatever is fresh, dress it with my favorite dressing (usually a vinaigrette), and it’s good to go.
Grill your vegetables!
One way to spunk things up is to roast your vegetables. Cabbage actually holds up well to roasting or grilling, and the smoky flavor turns ordinary slaw into something otherworldly. You can also grill radishes, turnips and beets.
Here are a few vegetables to add to your slaw that you might not have considered:
Sweet bell pepper
Napa or heading cabbage
Sugar snap peas
Dressings can run the gamut – bottled or homemade, creamy or vinegary, spicy or tame. Lime or lemon juice in place of vinegar in a vinaigrette gives a fresh, spring-like taste, especially to more tender greens like baby bok choi.
Combine lime with sesame oil and a dash of honey for an asian inspired vinaigrette
Add cilantro, cumin and ground chile for a decidedly south-of-the border flair
Garnish with toasted flax seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds or even chopped pistachios.
Summertime is my time for slaw. It is cool, crisp and can be creamy or citrusy-tart, depending on the recipe. The best part is that is easy to make and keeps well for several days in the refrigerator.
Use just about any vegetable
It’s easy to change up the slaw to pair with different kinds of food, not to mention making use of whatever is being harvested from the garden. You can use any combination of crisp, firm vegetables such as kohlrabi, radish, turnip, rutabaga, carrot, cabbage, broccoli, peppers, cauliflower. Add some cucumber for juiciness at the last minute.
Dressings can be creamy or tart
Dressings are also only limited by your imagination. For a creamy dressing, use Greek yogurt or mayonnaise as a base and add lemon juice, salt and pepper and a hint of honey or sugar. For a dressing to cool the palate to accompany spicy Asian food, use lime juice, sesame oil and honey. For a Mexican riff, add cilantro, chili powder and cumin.
And feel free to add onions, sesame seeds or roasted flax seeds, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries or raisins.
Bok choi or pac choi slaw
2-3 heads baby pac choi, sliced thinly 1 large red bell pepper, thinly sliced 1 large green bell pepper, thinly sliced 4 scallions, sliced thinly on an angle ½ cucumber halved, seeded and thinly sliced
2 limes, juiced ¼ c. honey 3 T. vegetable oil salt and pepper
Toss with dressing and serve immediately.
Broccoli stem slaw
About 2 cups of broccoli stems, peeled and grated (save the florets for another meal) 1 large carrot grated ½ c. red onion sliced thinly
¼ c. mayonnaise or Greek yogurt 1 T. fresh lemon or lime juice 1 t. sugar ½ t. Salt
Toss with dressing and refrigerate for an hour or so before serving.
Cabbages are plentiful at the markets right now. Who can resist the sharp crack as you slice into a crisp cabbage head? This is the time to get plants started for fall crops.
Brassicas all have sulfur compounds
What is it about the scent and flavor of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale? We all recognize it, whether coming from steaming broccoli in the kitchen or from rotting cabbage leaves left in the fields to overwinter. But that sulfurous odor is what makes them so extraordinarily good for us. All plants in this family are full of sulfur compounds called sulphoraphanes, anticarcinogenic compounds that make the vegetables so heart-healthy.
Vitamins and antioxidants are plentiful
All Brassicas (comes from the scientific name for this family of vegetables – Brassicaceae) are high in fiber, low calorie and low fat. They are sources of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as potassium, calcium, magnesium and iron. The more color the plant has, the more antioxidants it provides. Purple cabbage, orange and purple cauliflowers, red mustard and kale, purple broccoli and brussels sprouts all have more benefits than their green counterparts.
Grow these crops in all seasons
In the garden, brassicas bridge all seasons. You can time planting kale and Chinese cabbage in very early spring when no other vegetables are producing. Their flavors add a pungent freshness to the sweet mellowness of winter stored potatoes, carrots and winter squash. And most of them will last well into fall to provide leafy greens and sweet small cabbage heads for colcannon or “kalecannon” for the Thanksgiving table. Put them under a cold frame and you can often coax them through most of the winter. One of the best traits of almost all brassicas is the chemistry that sweetens them after a frost.
If you plan to start brassicas for the spring garden, they should be seeded in late winter under lights, or in early spring outdoors. The greens are easily grown from seed in the garden, but the larger brassicas such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts should be started indoors for transplanting into the garden.
In the warmer summer climates such as North Carolina, they tend to go to flower quickly since summer comes on fast. So, plant broccoli rabe or broccoli Calabrese for spring and save the heading broccoli and cauliflower for fall crops. Start plants in early to mid-July for transplanting into the fall garden.
Easy to grow
Growing all of the brassicas is fairly simple. They grow best in full sun in rich organic soil that is well-drained. They are moderate feeders so benefit from a top-dressing of compost or composted manure when planting. Mulch with organic mulch such as straw once they are growing. Once you harvest the central heads of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, you will often be provided with side shoots through the summer.
The two items that should be in your arsenal for pest control are Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), an organic bacterial pesticide that goes after pesky cabbage moth larvae, and floating row covers which can keep the moths away and help avoid aphid infestation. Since we are not looking for any pollination of the brassicas, the floating row covers can stay on all season.
Red cabbages seem to be less prone to cabbage moth damage. Plant a green cabbage among the reds for beauty and also as a trap crop.
Let’s cook some cabbage
Cabbage is perhaps the best brassica to stand up to most types of cooking. My family doesn’t generally look favorably upon cooked cabbage, mostly because they remember the traditional corned beef and cabbage in which the cabbage is boiled to a soggy mass.
So, let’s try for something totally different – grilled cabbage steaks. These are tender-crunchy with the smokiness of the grill and a hint of caramelization. Delicious!
Roasted or Grilled Cabbage steaks
Preheat oven to 375 or grill to medium
1 head of cabbage, green or red, sliced into 1/2″ steaks
salt and pepper
Tahini Lemon Sauce
1/2 c. tahini
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup water (or more if necessary)
Place cabbage steaks on pan filmed with olive oil. Roast in oven about 15-20 minutes until crisp tender. You can put them under the broiler for a minute or so if they haven’t browned. Don’t overcook or it will be soggy. Dress with tahini lemon sauce. And you can also spice things up a bit with crisp crumbled bacon or feta cheese.
Alternatively, grill, turning over once for about fifteen minutes.
Place tahini, lemon juice and garlic in blender. Turn blender on and add water gradually as needed to reach the consistency you desire. Blend until smooth.
The sauce is a wonderful sauce or dip for any type of vegetable. You can thin it a bit more to use as a salad dressing.
The summer is heating up and with the holiday weekend upon us, barbecuing is on everyone’s mind. This is a prime time to heat up the grill instead of the kitchen.
I used to think of the grill as the place where you cooked ribs, chops and chicken breasts. However, I now use it for all types of vegetables, mushrooms and bread and I’m hooked.
Gas or charcoal
You can use a gas or charcoal grill but it just takes a little more planning to get the coals ready. I’ve managed to pick up a few grilling baskets and trays at second-hand stores although you also buy new ones from garden and hardware stores. Whatever utensils or cookware you use, make sure it’s not your best because it will show wear from the grill. I have set aside a couple of older cast iron pans for use on the grill and I love how they cook outside almost as much as inside.
Grill almost any vegetable
A visit to the farmers market or my garden brings in tomatoes, summer squash, spring onions, early carrots, fresh garlic, maybe some late asparagus, bok choi, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms and a myriad of other good eats.
All of which can be simply grilled. The essence of grilling is to use high-quality oil to help the vegetables caramelize. My go-to is fruity olive oil, but you can use grapeseed, walnut or even toasted sesame oil for a slightly Asian taste.
Garnish with herbs after grilling
Fresh herbs lose their flavor quickly when grilled, so if using them, chop and add them after the vegetables come off the grill. I also wait to salt vegetables until they come off the grill, while they are still warm so the salt dissolves, but not while on the grill which tends to make it necessary to use more salt.
Marinate or not
You can marinate the vegetables before cooking if you choose, but since vegetables don’t soak up oil and vinegar as meats do, it really isn’t necessary. You can toss them with whatever you like after they come off the grill for delicious flavors.
Vegetables don’t take long to cook, so cook any meats or other main courses first.
How to grill
Heat the grill to high and then turn it back to medium. Oil your pan (cooking spray works fine), and then add the vegetables. Some that are tougher, like carrots or beets, should be steamed or blanched briefly in boiling water to start the cooking process. Don’t cook until they are soft, though or they won’t hold up on the grill. Toss the vegetables frequently while they cook so all sides get equally caramelized.
Trim off tough ends, roll in olive oil and grill on a flat grill pan for around ten minutes, shaking the pan part-way through or using tongs to roll them around. Serve with a yogurt or mustard sauce.
Steam or blanch about 2 minutes and then dress with olive oil. Grill in a basket about ten minutes until easily pierced with a fork. Toss with fresh mint and maple syrup if desired or simply dressed with salt.
Cabbage and cauliflower
Cut into “steaks”, drizzle with oil and cook on a grill tray until it is just crisp-tender. Sprinkle with garlic powder and drizzle with balsamic vinegar to serve.
Cut into small florets, toss with oil and toss in a grill basket about ten minutes. Toss with fresh parmesan, a fresh squeeze of lemon and lots of fresh ground pepper to serve.
Summer squash, zucchini, pattypans
Cut into ½” thick coins and toss with garlic powder and oil. Toss in a grill basket about 10-15 minutes until crisp-tender. A sauce made with Dijon mustard and yogurt is delicious drizzled over the top.
Blanch new potatoes (red or gold) until slightly tender. Slice in half, toss with a bit of olive oil and grill for about 10 minutes. Toss with a warm vinaigrette for grilled potato salad.
Grilling mixes, rubs and marinades
Use these as a dry rub on meat, fish or vegetables: brush with olive oil and sprinkle with grilling mix.
Or, add a tablespoon to ¼ cup olive oil and ¼ cup vinegar of choice for a marinade. Brush vegetables or meats with leftover marinade as you grill. If you marinate meat, be sure to discard any extra marinade that you don’t use in cooking. It can harbor bacteria.
Basic Grilling Mix
1 T. oregano
1 T. basil
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. thyme
For specialty mixes – start with the basic grilling mix and add the ingredients listed:
Mint Herb Mix – use on potatoes, lamb or fish
1 T. mint
1 T. marjoram
1 T. tarragon
1 t. lemon balm
Italian Herb Mix – Use for pizza on the grill, on grilled potatoes for potato salad, on chicken breasts
1 t. rosemary
1 t. chili flakes
Herbed Ranch Mix – Use on salmon or white fish, grilled potatoes, zucchini, yellow squash
1 T. dill
1 T. ground black pepper
Traditional barbecue – delicious on vegetables and potatoes
Bok choi or pac choi is my favorite of all the chinese cabbages. It’s tender and sweet and is sturdy enough to last for a couple of weeks in the fridge after harvesting. I love it fresh and sauteed or grilled, and it is full of the wonderful sulfur compounds that are so healthful. Just like the rest of the cabbage family.
It is so easy to grow as long as you start early enough indoors. I haven’t seen many transplants available in stores so I always start my own around February first. These babies do not like to be transplanted into larger pots like tomatoes, so they should be grown in small pots that they will stay in until going out in the garden. I’ve had great luck growing pac choi in containers, and in fact prefer that since I can control cabbage worms easily.
Full sun, good soil
They grow best in full sun in rich organic soil that is well-drained. They should be planted out early – they have the capacity to withstand frost. They are moderate feeders so benefit from a top-dressing of compost or composted manure when planting. Mulch with organic mulch such as straw once they are growing.
And harvest young. I’ve had the best luck growing some of the “baby” varieties that are harvested when about six inches tall. They stay tender, and are early enough that they often avoid the cabbage worms.
Cabbage moths are much more a problem on broccoli and regular cabbage, but occasionally they will be out early enough to attack pac choi. Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), an organic bacterial pesticide that goes after pesky cabbage moth larvae, is easy to apply and safe to use.
Grilled pac choi
Harvest small heads whole and carefully cut off the root end, taking care not to cut into the heart which will cause the leaves to separate (which is also okay because they can be used in a salad).
Sprinkle with a fruity olive oil and lay gently on a grill rack or in a grill basket. Turn with tongs after about five minutes, grill 5 minutes more and remove to a platter.
Splash with balsamic vinegar or lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and serve as a delicious side to whatever you are having as a main course.
You can change up the flavor a bit by using sesame oil instead of olive oil, and splashing with soy or ponzu sauce after they come off the grill.
This time of year cabbage and kale are plentiful and nutritious. It’s also time to think about getting those transplants ready for the garden. The cold weather doesn’t bother these hearty (and hardy) plants.
All members of the cole family are troubled by cabbage moths, so be ready when your transplants go out to cover them with row covers or be vigilant about treating with Bt, a bacterium specific to butterfly and moth larvae (available at most garden centers).
Now to the best part – eating!
Whether Chinese cabbage such as bok choi or napa, round head red or green cabbage, Winterbor, red Russian or laciniato kale, they all can make a wonderful riff on the traditional Irish colcannon.
This true comfort food is simply made with mashed potatoes and cabbage or kale. It sounds unusual, but I’ll guarantee that there’s something magical about the combination of earthy potatoes and sweet cabbage or kale.
Start with mashed potatoes
And as great as it is just as the Irish make it, there are so many other things you can add to it to make it even more delicious. You simply make mashed potatoes as you always have (add cream cheese when mashing for more richness).
Choose your vegetables
Then saute vegetables of your choice – kale, swiss chard, chinese cabbage, traditional cabbage, eggplant, zucchini, broccoli – with some onion and a bit of garlic until slightly tender.
Mix with the mashed potatoes and bake. It makes a perfect side dish to any main course, and is a delicious vegetarian entree all by itself.
Feel free to add and subtract as your palate desires. You can substitute half the potatoes with parsnips, add carrots or peppers. You can also top the dish with cheddar, gouda or parmesan cheese for a different flavor. If you like, top the dish with bread crumbs or panko before baking.
Serve six as a side or four as a main dish
4 medium russet potatoes (about two and a half pounds), peeled and cut into chunks. You can use reds or yellow potatoes for a different flavor
2 T. salt (sounds like a lot, but you are salting the water which will give the potatoes just enough saltiness
4 T. butter or 2 T. butter and 2 T. cream cheese
Approximately 1 c. milk or cream
3 c. chopped kale, cabbage, chard, or other leafy green
3 green onions or one small leek, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
½ c. chopped sweet red pepper or mix in a little hot pepper if you like
In a medium -sized saucepan, put the potato chunks and cover with cold water by an inch. Add salt and bring to a boil. potatoes in a medium pot and cover with cold water by at least an inch. Add 2 tablespoons of salt, and bring to a boil. Boil until a fork easily pierces the potatoes, about 15-20 minutes. Drain well.
Preheat the oven to 425. Melt the butter in a saute pan and add the greens. Saute about three minutes. Add the onions or leeks and any other vegetables and cook another minute. Set aside.
Mash and bake
Mash the potatoes with a potato masher or mixer, using enough milk or cream to make them creamy but not runny. Combine with the vegetables and salt and pepper to taste. Smooth into an oiled casserole dish and add cheese and/or breadcrumbs if using. Bake about 30 minutes until the mixture is bubbly. Let stand ten minutes and enjoy!