Is slaw salad? Try this fennel-mango version and then get back to us

But don't expect any coleslaw recipes.

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HERE AT THE DEPARTMENT OF SALAD, the boys in the lab and I tell people all the time: there’s not really a salad we don’t like. And since we had always allowed ourselves to believe that coleslaw is not technically salad, we’ve always been comfortable telling anyone who will listen that we’re not crazy about the stuff (unless you put it on a hamburger or hot dog—that’s just absolutely delicious.)

I adore raw cabbage. I love mayonnaise. I just don’t necessarily love them together. Like Elvis and the bedazzled jumpsuits, they don’t seem to bring out anything especially good in one another.

And please don’t tell me it’s because I have not added celery seed. When has that ever swayed anyone?

Unfortunately, after doing a bit of research I discovered that there is indeed a salad I don’t like and it’s name is. . . coleslaw. Because according to the Oxford Companion to Food, the word coleslaw (which most of us take to mean shredded or grated cabbage dressed with a mayonnaise sauce) comes from the Dutch koolsla. Kool means cabbage and sla means salad. CABBAGE SALAD. Dammit.

But it also means that I’ve been loving slaw (aka salad) all along. So I do love all salads! And I do love the idea of coleslaw: shredded crunchy things in snappy dressing with little pops of surprising flavor.

Just not this one:

Anyway, I’ve been in Atlanta all week, where we ate outside a lot, and where it has been as hot as the face of the sun. The thought of eating cabbage coated in mayo under such conditions seemed both unpleasant and possibly life threatening.

So I decided to think about some summer slaws—or salads—that would be nice for cookouts and picnics—crunchy and refreshing as a side or topper for grilled meats; crossover dishes that seem to straddle the line between our ideas of salads, slaw, and relishes.

The very first thing that came to my mind was a delicious cabbage salad topped with chicken that I’ve been making for 15 years, which I mentioned many issues ago, in vague terms; I have the recipe for that today. But I also have one of the straddling dishes for you, too. I’ll be telling you about another midweek, followed later on by yet another, inspired by the Rancho Gordo bean emperor Steve Sando, who talked to us not long ago about grating everything he could get his hands on and calling it salad. We may or may not call it slaw.

*RECIPE: Crisp, Refreshing Cabbage Salad with Juicy Shredded Chicken and Sesame-Lime Dressing

Serves 4

I made this again recently while I was in Atlanta visiting my cousin Toni and her daughters Addie and Mariah; we couldn’t decide what we wanted to make but I knew I wanted something crunchy and cool: cabbage. Toni already had chicken in the fridge and cilantro. I bought some carrots and scallion. You could also add julienned cucumbers (leave the peel on if it’s not bitter; remove the seeds), julienned red or yellow bell pepper, or even tart apple. We didn’t have anything else with it. It felt like a complete meal.

For the Salad
  • 1/2 small head green cabbage, thinly shredded crosswise

  • 1/2 small head purple cabbage, thinly shredded crosswise

  • 4 carrots, in julienne as thin as you can make it (if you can’t find your mandoline)

  • 4 large scallions, thinly sliced crosswise with plenty of the tops. You can also do this by cutting them in half crosswise, then slicing them into lengthwise strips/julienne

  • 1 large jalapeno, split lengthwise, seeds removed, sliced into thin half moons

  • 1 cup cilantro leaves, stems removed

  • 1 red or yellow bell pepper, julienned (optional)

  • Lime wedges for the table

For the super juicy chicken
  • 2 big skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts

  • plenty of kosher salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

  2. Place the chicken breasts in a baking dish, skin side up, and shower them with a good thick layer of salt. I use Morton’s Kosher. (This is not the time for wasting Maldon or other fancier salts.) It’s creating a crust to assure the chicken is extra-juicy. You’re going to remove the skin, so stop worrying about over-salting.

  3. Roast for 1 hour.

  4. As soon as the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin. Remove the meat from the bone, then pull into long delicious juicy shreds (with the grain) that are now perfectly seasoned by the salt crust. Refrigerate until you are ready to assemble your salad.

For the Dressing

This makes a lot; you won’t use all of it on one salad, but it keeps well in the fridge for when you make another one the very next night.

  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger (use a microplane/rasp grater; you should own one of these!)

  • 1 clove garlic, grated (use the microplane/rasp grater you bought after I suggested it above)

  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar

  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce

  • 1 tablespoon honey

  • 1/3 cup canola oil

  • 1/4 cup toasted sesame oil

  • 2 tablespoons Vietnamese garlic chili sauce (or something along those lines; harissa, sriracha, etc.)

Place all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake shake shake shake. Taste and adjust acid to oil ratio.

To assemble

Toss all the salad vegetables and most of the cilantro together in a large bowl. Place them attractively in a large, shallow salad vessel. Top with the shredded chicken and remaining cilantro. Pour about half of the dressing over it all and show this off at the table. Toss and serve with lime wedges for those who like extra tartness (I do). Bring the remaining dressing to the table just in case.

*RECIPE: Fennel Mango Slaw with Lime Dressing

Serves 2-4

Now, this is my idea of a summer side dish. It would be welcome and refreshing with grilled pork or fish, but Toni and I ate it out of the bowl—and then we ate the alternative version with peaches out of the bowl, too. I do that sort of thing a lot. It’s so bright tasting, and the slivers of mango are a heavenly contrast to the crisp vegetables.

  • 1 large fennel bulb, trimmed, thinly sliced

  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced crosswise

  • 1 large ripe mango, peeled and thinly sliced

  • 1/2 scant cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (the amount is really up to you—I like a lot; Toni didn’t think it needed any)

Place the sliced fennel and onion in a bowl of ice water for several minutes. Drain very well. Place in a large bowl with the other salad ingredients and toss gently to combine. Drizzle with some of the dressing to coat (recipe below); toss again and taste for salt. Add more dressing if desired.

Lime Dressing
  • 4 tablespoons lime juice

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil

  • 2 tablespoons honey

  • 1 teaspoons Dijon mustard

  • pinch cayenne

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (more to taste)

  • Freshly ground black pepper

Place all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake shake shake shake. Taste and adjust the seasonings, and the acid to oil ratio. If it needs more lime, add more. Another half teaspoon of mustard? Feel free.

NOTE: I made a version of this with peach in place of mango. It was insanely delicious. I think I like the texture and crazy sweetness of the mango better. If you want to make it with peaches, sub 1 large peach for the mango, and add a quarter cup of golden raisins and a bit more parsley. The golden raisins were divine.

THAT’S IT. WE’RE DONE HERE. Enjoy your belle salades. Midweek, we’ll have another crossover slaw session for paid subscribers. Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to share the Department of Salad: Official Bulletin with your friends and loved ones who deserve it.

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