After we made the traditional mayonnaise based American coleslaw several days ago, I remembered there was another type of coleslaw that was always present at picnics in my childhood. I remembered it was called pepper slaw. My husband had never heard of it, so I decided to make it for him.
All the vegetables are cut into a fine dice so the pieces are all about the same size. They include: 1 head of cabbage, 7 stalks of celery, one red and one yellow bell pepper with the skin removed, one purple or sweet onion. Mix the cut vegetables together in a large bowl. As usual, my husband sliced and diced so efficiently and quickly, this is the easiest part of the preparation for me. He referred to himself as the human “cuisinart”, but the mileage may differ depending of what you have.
Dressing: 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cup sushi vinegar, 2 tsp. salt, 2 tsp mustard seed bloomed (to bloom the mustard seed put into a dry frying pan and heat until the seed pops open. When they start popping they will look like popcorn hopping out of the pan. Take them off the heat immediately. Blooming the seeds gives them a much richer flavor). The other ingredients include 3/4 to 1 tsp. black pepper, 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard and 1 tsp celery seed.
Pour the dressing over the vegetables and stir completely. Let the slaw rest in the refrigerator for several hours for the flavors to marry. This will get better over the next few days. The dressing I use includes much less sugar than the traditional recipes. The inclusion of sushi vinegar is not traditional either, but It is much milder than the usual cider vinegar. In addition, I added more cracked black pepper than the usual recipes call for. (With these traditional dishes there must be regional differences. The pepper slaw I grew up with was really quite peppery. I thought it was called pepper slaw because of the sharp spicy black pepper taste. This is what I grew up with and this is what I expect from the dish. You may want to vary the amount of pepper to your own taste). It wasn’t until we were making this batch that my husband pointed out that the inclusion of the red (green, yellow, orange etc) peppers contributed to the name pepper slaw as well.
I have not eaten this dish in years. As a child it was my least favorite slaw but it was ubiquitous--no picnic was complete without mayo based coleslaw and pepper slaw. I thought it was basically coleslaw with a lot of black pepper added. Again I am amazed how a taste can transport you to a different time and place. When I initially tasted the mixture I made, I thought it was close but didn’t really ring a bell. It wasn’t until I started dialing up the amount of black pepper that I reached a point when suddenly the taste was exactly what I remembered. Also, I have to say I appreciate this dish much more as an adult than I did as a kid. It is sweet and sour, with a spiciness that is very refreshing.
P.S. I find I keep adding cracked black pepper to this dish...it still has not reached the level pepperiness I remember.