Radish and Pea Slaw is cabbage-free. Get the recipe link, below. (Jennifer Chase/For The Washington Post)

When it comes to picnic and potluck contributions, almost everyone welcomes coleslaw. So, why is it that what lands on the table is often store-bought?

I contend the fault lies entirely with the cabbage. Unless you are serving the entire elementary school population, one square mile of a neighborhood or the largest-ever family reunion, an entire head of cabbage makes a heckuva lot of slaw. A lot. And if I want the charm of red and green shreds tangled together? Well, that’s even more slaw or, worse, lingering half heads of red and green cabbage in the vegetable drawer, to accompany the containers of leftover slaw.

Let’s turn this sad slaw story around by ditching the cabbage for the more interesting vegetables of early summer. In one: Radishes, pert and peppery, join forces with sweet snap peas and carrots. In the other, a cabbage cousin, kohlrabi, snuggles up to crisp fennel. Herbs complement the mix. These are two sturdy slaws that stay crunchy, even when tossed with a dressing.


Ingredients for Radish and Pea Slaw. (Jennifer Chase/For The Washington Post)

We cannot deny what is required for homemade slaw: knife work. There will be a lot of chopping, which means it is worth extracting an appliance or specialty tool from the back of some lower cabinet. My grandmother made slaw with the chopping attachment for her stand mixer, and, while I have one of those, I prefer to use a manual mandoline (unless I’m dealing with several heads of cabbage at once). The slivered matchsticks are so pretty, and their squared structure means more of the dressing clings to each piece. This is slow and deliberate work, even meditative. To allay mandoline-phobia, you could invest in safety, cut-proof, mesh gloves.

When I’m not in a contemplative mood and simply need to get a slaw made, the grating disk on my food processor provides the muscle power. Put all the vegetables through the feed tube and they emerge similarly shaped, a riot of color. Cut the vegetables into equal-size chunks before processing to avoid long strands that dangle precariously from the fork. Similar shapes and sizes means every bite contains a bit of this and a bit of that, and it’s easier to eat while juggling plate, glass and napkin.

In a pinch, a box grater gets the job done; the same safety gloves are useful for close work. The rule of (injury-free) thumb for chopping slaw vegetables is consistency: Keep the pieces a similar size. How to dress it is a matter of personal choice. There are mayonnaise-based dressings, of course, and the ensuing discussion (Duke’s, Hellman’s, Miracle Whip vs. homemade.) I am not treading into that territory. Instead, opt for a sweet-and-tangy poppy seed dressing on one slaw and a citrus-and-chile dressing on the other.


Kohlrabi-Poppy Seed Slaw. (Jennifer Chase/For The Washington Post)

Even a slaw made of sturdy vegetables should not be dressed too far in advance. The salt and vinegar will pickle the slaw mixture, wilting it slightly and extracting moisture from the vegetables. Too much time in a salty brine and that slaw is a kissing cousin to sauerkraut — without the benefit of a slow, controlled fermentation. To avoid a pickled situation, I travel to the party with the undressed slaw in the serving bowl and the dressing in a tightly capped jar. As soon as I arrive, I’ll toss everything together for the freshest, crunchiest slaw, entirely cabbage-free.

Barrow is a Washington cookbook author. She’ll join Wednesday’s Free Range chat at noon: live.washingtonpost.com.

Recipes:

Radish and Pea Slaw

8 servings (makes 4 cups)

MAKE AHEAD: The vegetables may be shredded up to 1 day in advance, individually stored and refrigerated; add the cilantro and Thai basil to the salad just before you add the dressing. You may have some dressing left over.

From Bring It! columnist Cathy Barrow.

Ingredients

¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce

¼ cup fresh lime juice (from about 3 limes)

¼ cup grapeseed oil

2 tablespoons plain rice vinegar

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon peeled, freshly grated ginger root

½ seeded Fresno or jalapeño chile pepper, minced (1 tablespoon)

1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed

1 medium watermelon radish, peeled and grated (about 1 cup; see headnote)

½ small daikon radish (4 ounces), peeled and grated (about 1 cup)

About 5 medium red radishes, trimmed and grated (about 1 cup)

2 medium carrots, scrubbed well and grated (about 1 cup)

1 pint snap peas, stringed and slivered (about 1 cup)

¼ cup packed, finely chopped cilantro leaves

2 tablespoons finely chopped Thai basil

Steps

Combine the soy sauce, lime juice, grapeseed oil, vinegar, brown sugar, sesame oil, ginger, chile pepper, salt and pepper in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid. Seal and shake vigorously. The yield is about 1 cup.

Combine the watermelon, daikon and red radishes, the carrots, peas, cilantro and Thai basil in a serving bowl. Use your clean hands to mix everything together gently and thoroughly.

Shake the dressing again; open and add about two-thirds of it to the slaw, mixing until well incorporated. Wait 10 minutes, then taste and add more of the remaining dressing, as needed, or salt and pepper.

The slaw will be delicious for 4 hours, after which it is still delicious but will appear more wilted, and the red from the radishes will bleed.

Nutrition | Per serving (using two-thirds of the dressing): 80 calories, 1 g protein, 6 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 350 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar

Kohlrabi Poppy Seed Slaw

8 servings (makes 4 cups)

MAKE AHEAD: The vegetables may be shredded up to 2 hours in advance, individually wrapped and refrigerated. The slaw will be delicious for 3 hours, after which it is still delicious but limp.

From Bring It! columnist Cathy Barrow.

Ingredients

½ cup grapeseed oil

¼ cup white wine vinegar

¼ cup honey

2 teaspoons poppy seeds

1½ teaspoons powdered mustard

1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed

4 medium kohlrabi, trimmed and peeled, then grated (about 1½ cups; see headnote)

2 medium carrots, scrubbed well then grated (about 1 cup)

1 small bulb fennel, trimmed and cored then grated, plus a few fronds for garnish (about ½ cup)

½ cup finely chopped red onion

¼ cup packed chopped fresh mint

Steps

Combine the oil, vinegar, honey, poppy seeds, powdered mustard, salt and pepper in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid. Seal and shake vigorously to form a creamy, emulsified dressing. The yield is about 1 cup.

Combine the kohlrabi, carrots, fennel, onion and mint in a serving bowl. Use your hands or two forks to mix everything together.

Shake the dressing again; open and add about two-thirds of it to the slaw, mixing until well incorporated. Wait 10 minutes, then taste and add more of the remaining dressing, as needed, or salt and pepper.

Nutrition | Per serving (using two-thirds of the dressing): 120 calories, 0 g protein, 10 g carbohydrates, 9 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 125 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 8 g sugar

Recipes tested by Cathy Barrow; email questions to food@washpost.com

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