Thursday, August 5, 2010

Red Cabbage Salad--Coleslaw's Polish Cousin

Poland can certainly be called a land of cabbage and potatoes. These two ingredients, together with beets, practically define Polish cuisine. If you visit Polish farmers markets you will be astounded by the mountains of cabbage heads and the great variety and quantity of potatoes being sold. Therefore, while spending the whole month in Poland, I cannot resist introducing my international readers to cabbage.

Whenever any foreigner asks about Polish cuisine or wants to show any knowledge of it, cabbage-based dishes inevitably come up. The most famous is bigos--a long cooked dish (it can take days to cook bigos properly), which is made from sour and fresh cabbage with a generous amount of different meats and sausages, and it is spiced up with dried porcini or prunes. It is very heavy but very tasty and everyone who has been raised in its flavor is nostalgic about it. Foreigners who tried it either fell in love with bigos, or hate forever even the very smell of it.

For those who are even scared to try bigos, we also have much lighter and less odoriferous dishes that are made of cabbage. They are also much easier to prepare. We have many variations of them in our national cuisine and anyone who is willing to try them, will find for sure a dish made of cabbage that is very tasty but also very light.

Unfortunately, as foreign cuisines have become widespread in Poland in recent years and even all the "holes in the walls" now serve exotic food like sushi or Turkish kebab, it is now much harder to find a good traditional dish like a cabbage salad, which used to be so prominent on the Polish daily menu.

Red cabbage was always one of my favorites. It is very healthy as it is particularly rich in vitamins K and C. It can be served in a cooked version, as a side dish to heavier meats like duck or venison, but the one I make at home is a simple salad made of raw red cabbage to preserve all its nutritional values. It can be served to accompany any meat, especially grilled.

Red Cabbage Salad

1/2 head red cabbage,
1/2 medium sweet onion,
2 tbsp roasted, slivered almonds,
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar,
1 tsp of sugar,
1/4 cup olive oil,
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese (optional),
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Shred cabbage thinly, salt generously, and set aside for about half an hour.
2. Using hands squeeze cabbage to help soften and macerate in its own juice.
3. Season with sugar, vinegar, and pepper.
4. Add onion and oil and mix well.
5. Sprinkle with almonds and serve.

Useful tips:
This salad can also be served at lunch with bread and cold meat cuts. If you sprinkle it with feta cheese, it would become a rich meal in itself.