I am so grateful that the sun is shining today.
We are back (yes!) from our sojourn in the south, and despite how wonderful it is to be home – and particularly, back in the arms of my love – I have found the return to the cold weather staggeringly difficult.
This is partly because, in my vanity, I have never quite been able to embrace the practical requirements of the Canadian winter. I have been enthusiastically watching the Olympics these past few days, hoping for inspiration both sartorial and otherwise (#wearewinter!) but ultimately I’d sooner stay under the covers or close to the stove, without socks or sleeves, alternating fistfuls of vitamin D with glasses of wine and counting the days until spring.
I would poke my head out for this coleslaw, though, because the very thought of it is enough to transport me back to my mother’s Mexican kitchen; and it works here, too, its crunch and bright flavours a fresh contrast to whatever warm, comforting thing you’ve likely got on your plate.
Before I get to the recipe, I need to tell you a little more about my trip. If you were following my Instagram feed, at right (@yesthisisperfect: hooray, technology!) you will have an idea of how it went: my parents’ Mexican life is enviable and happy-making in all of the best ways, and they made us feel like we fit right in. They also live in a beautiful town which lends itself very nicely to artful, vintage-looking snapshots.
But the part you didn’t get to see, because it was usually too late and too dark (and with too much wine involved) was the cooking. Using a two-burner camp stove and a 30-year-old wall oven, my mom creates meals with a combination of economy and abandon, and the same celebration of, and devotion to, really good food that she has my whole life.
I was spoiled.
I was also reminded that the insistence on making each meal an occasion is something that I have drifted from over the past several years, and I’ve missed that. I’m going to work on getting it back.
1/2 head cabbage (to yield 8 cups shredded)
1 bunch cilantro, washed well and ends trimmed but stems left on
1 red bell pepper, seeds and membranes removed
a 2″ piece of fresh ginger, peeled
scant 1/4c mayonnaise
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp sugar, or to taste
1 tsp celery salt
salt and pepper as desired
My mom puts the cabbage, cilantro, bell pepper and ginger into her blender all at once. She then fills her blender jar with water to cover the vegetables, and pulses until everything is finely shredded but not ground to a pulp. She then drains it all in a colander to yield the fluffiest coleslaw I have ever seen.
What you should also know is that this method did not totally work for me; I blame my blender, which is high powered and did not play nicely with my cabbage. I used my mother’s method for the cilantro, bell pepper and ginger, and it came out beautifully, but I shredded my cabbage the old fashioned way – with my food processor.
However you get there, once the first four ingredients are nicely shredded, transfer them to a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar, oil, sugar, and celery salt. Toss coleslaw with dressing (it will feel like there is not enough dressing, but I promise you there is!), taste, and add salt and pepper as you wish.
I haven’t forgotten how it all came to be – it happened so quickly, and so recently, that it’s still very fresh in my mind – but I do marvel.
I marvel that five years ago right around now, I was single, with a very lightweight secret crush on a guy I barely knew; loving the spring weather, and thinking about spending some time in another city, just for a change of scene.
You can guess, I am sure, what the next phase looked like: my lightweight crush became my great love, and spending time in another city became moving my entire life to begin anew with that same love – who, in turn, became the father of my children and then my husband.
We’re just about to move into a new house, another brand new start for the two of us, who have been lucky enough to have many of those already in our relatively brief time together.
Before I met him, I would never have considered myself a romantic.
This is one of the first dishes I ever cooked for him, and it remains a favourite.
Once in a Lifetime Chicken and Coleslaw
This recipe is easily doubled, or tripled, for a crowd, and it’s even better the next day.
4 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp rice vinegar
6 tbsp lime juice
6 tbsp fish sauce
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp sesame oil
4 tbsp soy sauce
4 cloves garlic, crushed
700 g boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/4c finely chopped fresh mint
1 package (454g or 1 lb.) coleslaw
In a shallow bowl large enough to hold chicken pieces, whisk together sugar, vinegar, lime juice, fish sauce, olive oil and sesame oil until well combined. Remove 3/4 cup of liquid from the bowl; reserve.
To make marinade, add soy sauce and garlic to the mixture in the bowl and stir well. Add chicken pieces; toss to coat, cover, and marinade as long as you can (minimum 20 minutes, maximum 4-5 hours).
Stir mint into reserved 3/4 cup of liquid to use as dressing for the coleslaw.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use tongs to transfer chicken pieces to a well-oiled shallow baking dish large enough to hold chicken in one layer. Bake, basting occasionally with marinade, until thighs are cooked through, 20-30 minutes. Let rest about 10 minutes before serving.
While chicken is resting, toss coleslaw with dressing.
Serves 2, generously.