by Derek Bromley

Napa Valley Register

Every time I see a head of cabbage at a farmers market stall, I feel torn. Yeah, it’s just a head of cabbage, but it is potentially so much more.

On the one hand, I could turn it into homemade sauerkraut, which tastes nothing like the mass-produced grayish stuff on the supermarket shelf. I’m talking about home-fermented deliciousness, alive with briny, complex flavors and full of probiotics, vitamins and minerals.

On the other hand, I love homemade coleslaw, another dish that bears little resemblance to its mass-produced counterpart, the type found in your local supermarket or fast-food chain. Homemade coleslaw tastes fresh and bright, looks like an exploding firework of vibrant colors, and to me evokes fond memories of summer backyard barbecues just as effectively as the smell of burgers searing on the grill.

To be honest, coleslaw usually wins when I get a head of cabbage home. Life is hectic and managing a three- to five-day sauerkraut fermentation — minimal as that requirement may be — often proves too much of a culinary commitment. Coleslaw is easy to make, doesn’t take long and can be prepped a few hours ahead of time to let the flavors marry.

The name coleslaw has been around since the 18th century when, according to Wikipedia, we Anglicized the Dutch term “koolsla” (kool = cabbage, sla = salad). But the recipe can be traced back to the ancient Romans, who served a dish of cabbage, vinegar, eggs and spices.

Mayonnaise was a mid-18th century invention, so the modern-day version that relies heavily on this ingredient is a newer kid on the block. In fact, it didn’t likely take off until a New York deli owner named Richard Hellmann began bottling his mayonnaise in 1912, setting the stage for mass adoption of the creamy condiment. The Hellmann name may not be familiar to born-and-raised West Coasters, but we East Coasters know that Best Foods mayo is the same as Hellmann’s back East.

Coleslaw variations are endless. You really just need shredded cabbage, although you can apply the same basic technique to broccoli, cauliflower or kohlrabi. (Just don’t call it coleslaw!) From there, the options are many and the opinions can get as heated as fans in an A’s versus Giants game. Mayo or vinegar? Onion or no onion? Dripping wet or barely moist? Coleslaw requires you to take a stand.

I’ve made a lot of coleslaw variations and have settled on this one for the past few years. The measurements are approximate, as no two heads of cabbage are exactly the same size or moisture content. You may prefer something sweeter or wetter; feel free to vary the proportions accordingly, so long as you get a bright, delicious pop of flavor when you take a bite.

I use both mayo and vinegar, especially when using store-bought mayo. The vinegar brightens and intensifies mayo’s flavors. And for high notes, I’ve landed on a judicious use of both cilantro and lavender. Either ingredient can be overpowering if you’re not careful, but a small amount of each really brings out the best in fresh cabbage.

I’m a red cabbage guy. I love the explosion of color it brings to the finished dish, although the color will leach into the dressing over time. Feel free to mix red and green types if you want an even more stunning firework display and are making a larger batch, or just use green if you’re an A’s fan. At the Napa Farmers Market, look for cabbage at the stands of Big Ranch Farms, Esquivel and Long Meadow Ranch.

National Farmers Market Week: The Napa Farmers Market will join markets across the country to celebrate National Farmers Market Week from Aug. 5-11. Please come show your appreciation for our farmers on Tuesday, Aug. 7, and Saturday, Aug. 11. The market staff has some fun activities planned:

Shoppers, we’ll be asking you to Nominate Your Favorite Farmer, the one whose produce you can’t live without. The winning farmer will have his or her stall fee waived that day.

Take the Trivia Challenge. Spin the wheel at our Information Station and answer trivia questions about the market. Prizes for correct answers!

Bring your youngsters to the Information Booth for a coloring competition with prizes.

Enter the #LoveMyMarket Instagram Contest. Here’s how: Come to the market on Aug. 7 or Aug. 11 and get your free tattoo at the Information Booth. Take a photo of yourself, a farmer, shopper, puppy, baby, tomato — anyone or anything — wearing the tattoo. Post the photo to Instagram with the hashtag #LoveMyMarket. Include @napafarmersmkt or #napafarmersmarket in your post. The National Farmers Market Coalition will choose the winning images and award a prize to the photographer and the market. Submit your entries between Aug. 1 and Sept. 2.

Chef Demo at the Market: On Saturday, Aug. 11, at 10 a.m., chef Greg Cole will demonstrate Grilled Corn Chowder at the Napa Farmers Market. The demonstration is free and recipes and tastes will be provided.

Live music on the KVYN Soundstage: On Tuesday, Aug.  7, Bruno Grassi will perform. On Saturday, Aug. 11, James Patrick Regan of The Deadlies will perform.

Firework Coleslaw

1 small head red cabbage, quartered and cored
2 medium carrots
1/4 cup cilantro, large stems removed, cleaned and rough chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and thinly sliced, optional

For the dressing:
1 cup mayonnaise, homemade or store-bought
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons coconut sugar, palm sugar or brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon dried lavender
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon celery
1 scallion, thinly sliced, and/or sliced almonds, optional

Shred the cabbage in a food processor or slice very thinly with a chef’s knife. Grate the carrots with the food processor’s grating disk or the large holes of a box grater.

Combine the cabbage, carrots, cilantro and jalapeno, if using, in a large mixing bowl and toss to combine well.

Make the dressing: Combine all the dressing ingredients in a separate mixing bowl, crushing the dried lavender between your fingers, then whisk well. The finished dressing should be creamy. If too watery, add more mayonnaise; if too creamy, add a splash more vinegar or water. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.

Add half of the dressing to the cabbage mixture and toss to coat evenly. Taste and then add more dressing until the coleslaw is as moist as you like. Note that the dressing will pull water out of the vegetables over time, so err on the dry side if you aren’t serving the coleslaw right away. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours. If using the scallion or almonds, add them just before serving.

Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish.

Derek Bromley is the owner of Ohm Coffee Roasters and a Napa Farmers Market board member.