Over the summer, I found myself with an abundance of cabbages (one always seems to get lost in the abyss that is our refridgerator), and I challenged my mother to a "Slaw-Down". She made a southern-style slaw to pair with BBQ, and I made an Asian-inspired slaw with a sesame dressing. While no actual judging occurred, I would say it was a tie (both slaws disappeared quite rapidly). This little cabbage-patch event spurred a small obsession in my culinary brain: I had to learn about slaw, experiment with ingredients and dressings, and of course, I had to eat more slaw.
I find that one can add nearly any vegetable or fruit to a slaw, as long as your final slaw meets one basic expectation: it has to have some CRUNCH to it.
For vegetable slaws, I suggest:
cabbages (red, green, napa...), carrots, peppers (cut into strips), peas in pods, beans, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, jicama, cucumber, radishes, celery, broccoli, fennel, scallions
For fruit slaws, I suggest:
apples, pears, Asian pears, stonefruits, pineapple, citrus fruits
When creating your designer slaw, think about flavor profiles. What will you serve with it? Does your menu have ethnic flavors?
>When creating a slaw to pair with spicy food, design a dressing that helps to cool your mouth, by using a little yogurt or another dairy product.
>If pairing with a burger or BBQ, add a little mustard to your dressing.
>If pairing it with Asian cuisine, add basic Asian flavors/ingredients: sesame, soy sauce, ginger, etc.
Be creative! If you don't have all the ingredients to make your classic coleslaw, re-invent it! Some of the most interesting slaws I've created are ones that I have come up with on the fly.
If you're a recipe-follower, search online for slaw recipes. The Food Network is a great resource.
Finally, here are a few of my favorite slaws:
> the napa slaw served with Smokejack's seared Yellowfin tuna and a little Tobikko
> curried carrot and pear slaw
> ginger-sesame dressed Asian slaw
> Howie's apple-fennel slaw (from Top Chef)