When I was a kid, I loved cabbage – roasted or boiled, slathered in melty butter, and sprinkled with salt. (I still enjoy that sort of cabbage now, but reserve it for St. Patrick’s Day.) However, as much as I liked cabbage itself, I never understood slaw.
Most of the slaws I’ve tasted over the years have been more or less drowned in mayonnaise, and you see, mayonnaise and I aren’t quite best friends. I’m a mustard gal at heart, though I’ve learned to enjoy artichoke leaves dipped in a bit of mayo. But I never acquired that same taste for mayo when it came to cabbage salads. Peanut butter, on the other hand, I have always been able to eat by the spoonful (maybe even dipped in a little raspberry jam for some tart sweetness – yum! and yes, that is a “dessert” that I’ve eaten on multiple occasions.).
So when I first dipped chicken (and lamb!) satay – or even grilled sweet potatoes (seriously delicious with this sauce) – into spicy-sweet Thai peanut sauce, it was basically a dream come true. And at some point, probably after I dumped the leftover mango salsa and a dollop of pink chipotle mayonnaise on the extra cabbage from fish tacos, I had one of those light bulb moments where everything in the background fades out and a bright idea emerges: slaw with Thai peanut sauce. Genius.
This particular Thai peanut sauce is incredibly versatile and easy to make. Just dump the ingredients in a bowl, stir, and add just a little water if you’re making a thicker dipping sauce or add about a cup more for a thinner salad dressing. Spicy yet sweet, peanut buttery yet tangily fresh, this one’s a keeper. Toss it with some sliced cabbage, carrots, cucumber, green onions, basil, and freshly roasted peanuts, and you’ve got a slaw that’s refreshingly not of the mayonnaise variety but still incredibly cheap to make. Rather, it’s delightfully crunchy and will stay that way for hours (or even a day or two), so you can make it in advance. The sweetness of the veggies pairs well with the slightly spicy sauce, and the sauce is light and tangy enough so that you don’t feel like you’re being weighed down with a spoonful of peanut butter in each bite – though you still get plenty of peanut flavor.
Makes 6 servings
If you’re not the biggest cabbage fan – or even if you are – it’s worth giving savoy cabbage a try, as it’s lighter than the typical cabbage you might pick up (but just as cheap) and has more of a leafy, ruffled texture.
1 savoy cabbage (approximately 3/4 to 1 lb.)
2 medium carrots, grated with an extra-coarse grater or julienned
1 cucumber, seeded and (if waxy) peeled
2 green onions, finely sliced, including the green ends
2 Tbsp. basil (preferably Thai or anise basil), finely sliced
Thai Peanut Dressing (recipe below)
1/2 c. roasted peanuts (1/4 c. if using chunky peanut butter)
Quarter the cabbage, and slice each quarter into very thin strips. Cut cucumber in thirds lengthwise, then slice into very thin strips. In a large bowl, mix cabbage, carrots, cucumber, green onions, basil, and Thai Peanut Dressing. Cover with plastic wrap, and allow salad to marinate in the refrigerator for an hour or two (if you can; it’s also good immediately, but like any good slaw, it tastes even better after sitting around for awhile). Right before serving, add roasted peanuts.
Thai Peanut Dressing
This sauce is incredibly versatile, and can be used as a thick-ish dipping sauce (add the minimal amount of water in the recipe), or a slightly thinner sauce to put atop grilled chicken (add 1/4 c. more than the recipe, or maybe even a touch more than that, as to your liking), or as a thinner sauce that serves as a salad dressing (add 3/4 c. (or more!) beyond the recipe’s instructions). You can also make it spicier or milder, depending on your preference and on that of your guests, by adding additional spicy Asian chili sauce, but make sure yours is the spicy kind, not the super salty, super garlicky, not-remotely-spicy kind that I have occasionally run into (ahem, Whole Foods).
2 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped
2 Tbsp. basil (preferably Thai or anise basil), chopped
1/4 c. red onions, chopped
2 Tbsp. apple cider or rice wine vinegar
6 Tbsp. peanut butter (unsweetened)
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. spicy Asian chili-garlic sauce
2 Tbsp. peanut oil
1/4 c. water, plus more to reach desired consistency
Mix all ingredients together, and add more spicy chili-garlic sauce if you prefer your dressing to have a little extra kick. Add water until dressing reaches desired consistency (e.g., I prefer a thicker sauce for dipping, but a thinner sauce for salad dressing). For this salad, I forgot to measure, but think I added between 3/4 cup and 1 cup of water on top of the original 1/4 cup.