Romanian red cabbage salad
This is a simple, versatile salad that looks striking and is more delicious than you’d imagine, just reading the ingredients—sweet, tangy, slightly crunchy, and oily. It takes less than 20 minutes to make, and pairs well with almost anything. I learned it from a Romanian friend while in Japan, but I think variations of it are common across Eastern Europe.
The basic recipe is just about perfect, and I’d recommend doing it the most simple way possible before making it complicated. But it’s also a dish that can handle a lot of mucking around. It’s great with small pieces of apple, raisins, dried apricot, walnut, blue cheese, or hard boiled egg, for instance. It would be good with tarragon, caraway, black pepper, horseradish, or cloves. It could even handle some aioli, to serve as a kind of coleslaw.
– 1/2 red cabbage (about 1 pound, 450 g)
– 3 tbsp (45 ml) salt
– 3 tbsp (45 ml) red wine vinegar
– 1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
– Fresh fruit (e.g. apples, pears—or even celery) finely chopped
– Dried fruit, finely chopped
– Hard boiled egg, coarsely chopped
– Toasted nuts (almonds, walnuts, pine nuts or pumpkin seeds)
– Finely chopped herbs (dill, tarragon)
– Use another vinegar, like apple cider, white wine, or rice wine.
– Use another oil, like canola, grape seed, or pumpkin seed
– Aioli instead of oil and vinegar
Because the salad is so simple, the preparation matters quite a lot. The first thing that needs to be done right is slicing the cabbage thinly enough. There are settings on a mandolin or food processor that will work well enough. Go for thin strips that are about 1/16 in (2-3mm) wide if you can get them that thin.
The other option is to use a sharp knife, and shave the cabbage. You’re best off using a chef’s knife for this, or another large blade. Take the half cabbage and cut it into half again perpendicular with the first cut. This will give you two relatively broad faces. Hold the cabbage, and rub the knife down the surface of the cabbage, shaving thin strips off (but not gouging too deeply into the cabbage). You’ll quickly produce mounds of thinly shaved cabbage. Keep doing this until you’ve shaved as much of the cabbage as possible. Mind your fingers!
Next, murder the cabbage. Put it into a bowl, and add the salt. Rub the cabbage and salt together thoroughly (see: Murdering Vegetables). Let the cabbage sit for 5 minutes, then thoroughly knead the cabbage again with your hands. At this point, it should no longer be crispy and stiff, but should be limp and slightly crunchy. There should be quite a lot of juice, which might be turning an alarming shade of blue.
Let the cabbage sit for another minute, then squeeze out the juice as much as possible. Taste and rinse if necessary, and squeeze the juice out again (see: Murdering Vegetables).
Toss the olive oil and vinegar to taste together with the cabbage; and whatever additions you like — in the picture at the head of the article, the salad has apple and barberries.