The other day I tried to dial back the culinary clock about 20 years to a dinner that my husband and I had at a Sri Lankan restaurant in Culver City on the Westside of Los Angeles. It was a tiny spot located in a nondescript strip mall with one lone cook, a woman who was more like a generous auntie than a restaurant owner. I can’t recall much of the meal except for a red cabbage salad, which was bright, peppery and full of crunch. I went home and recreated it the next day. We had it in our rotation of quick and vibrant vegetable side dishes for weeks.
Then I shelved it, only to recently revive it this week when I wanted a salad that would go cut through some of the richness of some grilled pork. The dish came together in a flash with a little resting time for the ingredients to mellow and meld. Just as I remembered, the salad can withstand a fair amount of black pepper. It’s technically a slaw type of salad and it happily absorbs vinegar and other kinds of acidic seasonings.
Cilantro wasn’t in the original version we had, but this week, the slaw seemed to need a green pungent pick up. You can toss the ingredients together and let it marinate for 20 to 30 minutes. I was in a hurry so I massaged the cabbage and seasonings.
I remember peppering the Sri Lankan woman about the salad long ago and she said it was authentic. I’ve seen similar recipes like this one, but I’ve not been able to verify that such a preparation as this one is a riff or a true Sri Lankan salad. If you know the answer, don’t hold back! And, what’s your favorite slaw or cabbage salad?
Red Cabbage and Black Pepper Salad
Yields: 2 servings
- 6 ounces (180 g) shredded red cabbage
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
- 1/4 lime
- 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped cilantro (use tender leafy tops and stems)
Put the cabbage in a bowl. Add the salt, pepper, sugar, and vinegar. Squeeze the lime on too.
Use one hand to massage the ingredients for 1 to 2 minutes, until the cabbage softens. Set aside to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Right before serving, taste and adjust the flavor. Add the cilantro and transfer to bowl, leaving any liquid behind. Serve.
More slaw-type recipes to try: