Who invited the Dutch to the BBQ?


It must have been something to see. Dutch immigrants normalizing in the Carolina colonies. People who mastered canals at home and adventured across the globe. Unafraid. Bold. Lovers of Gouda and windmills. Saddling up with the culture of the long drawl. A culture that perfected pulled pork, biscuits & gravy as well as fried chicken.

Tuna plate at RDG, Houston, TX

Tuna plate at RDG, Houston, TX

How else might we explain how coleslaw adorns America’s Southeast? The Dutch “koolsla” (cabbage salad) is now our Summer side dish.

It must have been a mash-up of cultures: two foods meeting on a picnic plate. Under a yellow sun, ingredients sloshing around. Until one day, some bright soul realized that cabbage salad belong right on top of the pork.

Now all 50 states dress shredded cabbage to complement smoked meats. A food pairing as classic as peanut butter & jelly, pork & beans, or pumpkin pie with whip cream.

But think about it. Coleslaw is the heretic of the BBQ plate. It’s crunchy. And green. Ok, pale green. In a sea of chewy or spongy, comes the trampoline of marinated, shredded plant life. Probably the only vegetation the pit master allows near the smoker.

Potato salad and egg salad are posers.  Sure they have enough mayonnaise to cushion a Mack truck skidding off the turnpike. But those kind of salads are not what your cardiologist was thinking about when she mentioned cleaning up the diet.

A plate of BBQ from legendary Franklins

A plate of BBQ from legendary Franklin’s

It’s coleslaw that wears white shoes after Labor Day. It’s coleslaw that sang at your cousin’s wedding when bell-bottoms were long since pase.

So why not harness this battering ram of dinner sides? Why not re-vector this Dutch-classic-turned-all-American salad?

Put the lion to work. Let the sulfur bite and the vinegar claw. Let the salt snarl and the crunch growl.

Be brave like Robert del Grande. He unleashes a mayo-free slaw on seared tuna at RDG. Chili sauce acts as war paint on the face of the sushi-grade fish. It’s backed up with a shrimp and jalapeno studded slaw. The combination of fish and salad transform into an operatic experience.

The textures play like a conversation between a philosopher and a scientist.

Or put on a cape like the superheros at The Refinery in Florida. Here the culinary curious match coleslaw with a re-imagined eggroll. An eggroll that is essentially smashed root vegetables with an abrasively crisp skin.

It is a play of textures and expectations. An interpretation sung from upper balcony.

Veggie eggroll from The Refinery

Veggie eggroll from The Refinery in Tampa, FL

These are simple examples of cabbage salad throw-downs. Thoughtful combinations of mouth-feel and contrasting taste.

In reality, coleslaw is one of the most accessible dishes to make. Look no further than Blogger Ben’s Poor Richard’s Almanac. He quickly recounts the history of coleslaw and offers some recipes that essentially include the phrase “tear the bag open.”

America Fun Fact of the Day provides a tongue-in-cheek history of coleslaw. It dances around serious facts with an irreverent tone. The “drunken slaw” had yours truly going until the addition of cigarette butts to a bourbon and sour cream dressing.

Feel free to check out the FoodTimeline.org rendition of coleslaw’s history.  Or FoodTimeline.blogspot post on the history of cabbage. Both offer some interesting points about the role of the Brassica in our human narrative.

Or better yet, load home-made coleslaw into the muzzle of your own kitchen cannon. Aim it at something you’d like to re-invent. It’s never to late to behave like an explorer.

Go ahead. Unfurl those sails. Show us what else we can do with coleslaw. Just be sure to wear those white shoes when you do.

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