When the dimmer seasons turn you inward toward big pots of braising things or simmering batches of slow-cooker meals, match those recipes with a sturdy side dish that won't cower behind their homey hardiness. Chili, for example, with its robust kick and bulky beany, meaty sauciness would use a "mixed greens salad" as a footrest, stomping out the side's subtlety. This apple cabbage mélange is made for fall comfort classics, but it's as vibrant and fresh as any summer predecessors.
Pepitas are popular and usually easy to come by, but if you have any trouble, substitute toasted almonds, walnuts or sunflower seeds. If you are opposed to mayonnaise or just don't have any on hand, leave it out and use an extra tablespoon of oil in its place. I like the way mayo smooths the acidic edge of the vinegar and dresses this autumn salad in an extra, ever-so-slightly thicker layer.
Pair this side dish with: Very Good Chili or Vegetarian Pumpkin Chili
This colorful slaw makes such a good counterpoint to hearty chili. We offer you two versions — one a step by step tutorial on making the best chili, one that's adjusted to your own tastes and preferences. The other is an all-vegetarian special full of tender pumpkin and fall spices.
Apple Cabbage Salad with Brown Sugar Cider Vinaigrette
5 cups thinly sliced red cabbage (about 1/4 of one medium head) (see tip Recipe Notes)
4 ounces lettuce (about half of a small head), torn or sliced into strips (red leaf or romaine works well here)
2 medium apples (crunchy, crisp varieties like Honeycrip, Gala, or SweeTango), diced small
2 medium carrots, peeled into ribbons (see Recipe Notes)
2 cups finely chopped cauliflower (pull off about 3 of the cumulus cloud shaped bunches from the head, cut away the thick stem, and then chop the florets into tinier bits)
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions, green and white parts (about 3 or 4 scallions)
3 tablespoons canola, vegetable, safflower, or a mild nut oil like almond or walnut
1 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar (light or dark)
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Pinch of fine sea salt
5 grinds fresh black pepper
1/2 cup pepitas, toasted
Combine the cabbage, lettuce, apples, carrots, cauliflower, and scallions in a large serving bowl. Toss several times so that the carrot ribbons tangle with the cabbage shreds and lettuce leaves, and the cubes of apples and bits of cauliflower settle throughout rather than at the bottom of the bowl.
In a small bowl or spouted measuring cup, briskly whisk together the mayonnaise and oil until completely smooth. Add the sugar and mustard and whisk again. Finally, whip in the vinegar, salt, and pepper until the whole of it emulsifies into one dressing. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad, scatter the pepitas into the bowl, and toss again to combine everything. Serve immediately.
If you plan on having leftovers, hold off on the vinaigrette and pepitas, adding those per serving to prevent the salad from becoming soggy and the pepitas from losing their crispy crunch (You can just reserve a portion of the salad for saving, too, and dress the rest for serving immediately). Refrigerate the undressed salad in an airtight container for up to 4 days and store the pepitas in a zip-top bag or container outside of the fridge.
- Prepping the Cabbage: It's important to cut cabbage thin so that its natural sweetness has a chance to makes its mark on the salad before its hardy crunchiness, which can be clunky and overbearing if its not tamed. Cut the head of cabbage in quarters through the core. Set one of the quarters on one of its flat sides, cut the stiff stem away, and discard it. Now cut that quarter in half or thirds. Finally slice down across the leaves horizontally as thin as you're able so you end up with a pile of cabbage strips with which to either make this salad or throw a ticker tape parade.
- Prepping the Carrots: You can cut the carrots for this recipe any which way you like. Thin crunchy rounds or whispy bits of grated roots work nicely, too. But I like peeling carrots into ribbons here. To do it, use a Y-peeler to scrape away the outside skin of the carrot as you normally would. Discard that peeled pile, and then keep going, capturing the fresh peeled ribbons in the bowl. For long strands, simply run the peeler the length of the carrot. For shorter ones, peel halfway down and alternate the side you hold as you go. Once the carrot is so thin and flimsy that you can't peel any further, chop those skinny stubs up and throw them in the salad, or consider them a snack.
- Using a Food Processor: Alternatively, you can shred the cabbage and carrots in a food processor, but the texture will be more like a slaw and less like the salad made out of the strips and ribbons.
Tara's new book Choosing Sides includes 130 fabulous recipes for side dishes to complement any entrée and complete meals for every occasion. → Find it at an independent bookshop, local library, or on Amazon: Choosing Sides: From Holidays to Every Day, 130 Delicious Recipes to Make the Meal
(Images: Tara Mataraza Desmond)