Indian Slaw: Bund Gobhi Nu Shaak
Unless your mama is from western India, chances are this is not your mother's mayo- smothered, garlic powder-ridden coleslaw. Nutty, tart, with a citrus burst, these crunchy shreds of cabbage pack just the right amount of heat from the fairly benign Serrano chiles. Serve it, as is, for a salad course, or as an accompaniment to your traditional picnic fare. For an elegant presentation, I often serve it after the appetizer course mounded on top of romaine heart leaves with an edible flower as garnish, when seasonal.
1/2 small head of cabbage (about 1 pound) or 1 bag (14 ounces) coleslaw mix
1 to 2 fresh green Serrano chiles, stems discarded
1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts
1/4 cup dry unsweetened coconut shreds (see tips)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
Juice from 1 medium-size lime
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1. Remove the tough rib from the lower center of the halved cabbage by slicing it through, ending up with a v-shaped opening at the base. Cut the cabbage in half lengthwise. Slice it into shreds, as thin as you can. Dump them into a large bowl. If using the pre-shredded coleslaw blend (which usually has a few shreds of carrots and purple cabbage in it for color), empty the bag's contents into a large bowl.
2. Slice the chiles lengthwise and then cut them into thin slices, crosswise, ending up with half-moons of chiles that still have the rib and seeds within. Do not discard the seeds. Add this to the cabbage.
3. Empty the peanuts into a spice grinder (like a coffee grinder), food processor's bowl, or mini chopper and pulse the nuts to a consistency of coarse bread crumbs. Letting the machine run incessantly may yield a gummy product that you know more commonly as peanut butter. Tip the contents of the grinder over the cabbage. Add the coconut, cilantro, salt, and lime juice.
4. Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil appears to shimmer, add the mustard seeds, cover the pan, and cook until the seeds have stopped popping (not unlike popcorn), about 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and sprinkle in the turmeric which instantly bathes the oil with its yellow hue, the heat just right in cooking the spice without burning it. Pour this popcorn-smelling mélange over the cabbage. I often grab some of the cabbage from the bowl and add it to the skillet, wiping it clean with the shreds to make sure I get every last bit of spice and oil. Thoroughly combine the contents in the large bowl (tongs, spoons, or my favorite -- clean hand) to ensure every shred is evenly coated with everything. Serve either at room temperature (my preference) or chilled.
A decent-sized supermarket, worth its weight in gold, should stock dried unsweetened coconut either in the health foods aisle or the baking section. If they don't, grab that bag of highly sweetened coconut shreds in the baking shelf that is often a key ingredient in coconut cream pies and other coconut-based desserts like macaroons (my weakness.) To use it in this recipe, dump 1/2 cup of the sugary shreds into a medium-size bowl. Cover it with water and run your fingers through to wash some of the sugar. Empty this into a fine-meshed colander (think tea strainer). Dump the coconut back into the bowl and repeat with the rinsing, washing, and straining. You may need to do this cycle three to four times to make sure all that sugar is gone. An underlying sweetness is fine since freshly shredded coconut does have an inherent sweet taste.
I am a sucker for cooked cabbage. Oftentimes with the leftover salad I will add it to a skillet with a little water to cover the bottom of the pan and heat the cabbage until it warms through. A little extra kick from a liberal sprinkling of ground red pepper (cayenne) takes care of my addiction for nutty, hot, crisp-tender cabbage until the next fix.
Peanut allergy sufferers, if you are alright with any other nuts, use them as alternatives.
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