Here we are again: it's mid-August, and the New York City heat is unrelenting, as if the thermometer outside is permanently stuck at "hot and sticky". A few days ago it rained, but the temperature didn't drop a bit. We're promised an afternoon rainstorm and I'm feeling hopeful, but for now, I'm parked inside with our rickety air conditioner on full blast.
Growing up, I was never a huge fan of summer. I know, it's an unpopular sentiment, but in the midwest and the south, the humidity was unbearable, like some kind of sustained misery, and each year I found myself counting down the days until the seasons changed and we'd get a much needed break from the swampy, thick, airless heat. Simple things, like walking from the front door to the mailbox, became something to dread. And as a kid whose skin burned easily, the hot summer sun felt especially oppressive, like it was something I had to hide from. In New York, while I didn't expect the summers to be so scorching, the same has held true. I still feel the same sense of paranoia on the sunniest days (if you're a pale kid like me and have ever had a burn so bad your skin has blistered, surely you can commiserate), and I'm still not-so-patiently waiting until we can spend the days outside without breaking a sweat, and survive in this city without a big box of air conditioning pumping through our tiny apartment.
But on the plus side: the produce. If there's anything to be thankful for during these days, it's the plentiful bounty that comes as a direct result of warmer weather. No other season makes eating well this easy. Meals in the summer feel less fussy, and when it's so hot that you can't bare to turn on the stove, dinner tends to look a bit more like assembly and less like cooking. Cherry tomatoes, sliced in half, and tossed in a bowl with mozz, basil, olive oil and crusty bread. A batch of quick-cooking quinoa, topped with whatever vegetables and herbs I have on hand. A medley of lettuces and greens, tossed in a simple garlicky-lemon dressing. These are the moments where I find myself saying a few words that rarely make it out of my mouth, "I love summer".
Which brings me to this slaw, inspired by the corn slaw recipe in Ottolenghi's book Plenty More, and a salad (or "slawlad", as Grayson and I have been calling it) that I've been making variations of since the moment sweet corn entered the scene in early July. To say I adore Plenty More is an understatement. It's truly a manifest of love for vegetables; its pages brimming with colorful, thoughtfully placed photos, all fighting for my attention. I've dogeared so many pages at this point that the place holding system's become irrelevant: I want to make every single recipe in this book. And when the weather is this hot – the kind of weather that essentially screams for a surge of thirst-quenching greens and crunchy vegetables – Ottolenghi's slaw as it's written, or in the variation you'll see below, is like a tall, hearty, drink of water. All I can say is, this ain't your grandma's colorless slaw that you might have scooped onto your plate, and then promptly avoided with your fork, at a family potluck. This slaw has no place next to a bowl of saucy baked beans, but rather is the star of the show. It's refreshingly cool, a little crisp and crunchy, then creamy with a little bite. Take the quinoa or leave it – I liked the heartiness that it added, which made it feel like a complete meal, rather than a side dish.
For the slaw:
> 5 corn cobs, lightly brushed with olive oil
> 1 large red onions, or 3 small red onions, thinly sliced
> 1/2 head white cabbage, thinly shredded
> 5 carrots, julienned
> 2 chiles (or jalepeños or serranos, depending on your heat preference)
> 1 1/2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
> 1 bunch mint, finely chopped
> 1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
> 2 cups quinoa, cooked
> 1 cup white wine vinegar
> 2 cups water
> Salt and pepper
For the dressing:
> 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
> 3 teaspoons grainy mustard
> 1 tablespoon olive oil
> Juice of 1 lemon
> 1 garlic clove, crushed and minced
1. Quick-pickle the cabbage, carrots and onions: Place the vinegar and water in a small saucepan with a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil until the salt is dissolved, then remove from the heat. Place the cabbage and carrots in a large mixing bowl, and the onions in a small bowl. Pour two-thirds of the vinegar liquid over the cabbage and carrots, and the remaining liquid over the onions. Toss until coated, then let sit for 20 minutes. Strain and rinse the vegetables and pat them dry, then place together in the large mixing bowl.
2. Grill the corn: Place a cast-iron or ridged grill pan over high heat until it starts to smoke. Chargrill the corn for 10 minutes, or until all sides get some color. Once they're cool enough to touch, remove the kernels and place them in the bowl with the cabbage, carrots and onions. (Note: this is not exactly an air-conditioning-less-apartment friendly part of this recipe. While this step adds a smokiness to the slaw, it's also one that can be skipped if you don't have access to an outdoor grill or are avoiding turning the stove on. Raw sweet corn, in my opinion, is equally delicious.)
3. Make the dressing: Place mayonnaise, mustard, olive oil, lemon and garlic in a small bowl and whisk until combined.
4. Mix it all together: Add the remaining vegetables, quinoa and herbs to the large bowl and toss, until thoroughly mixed. Pour the dressing over the slaw, a little at a time, and continue to toss, until completely coated.