Black Salt 'Slaw
I grew up in a suburb in Florida, and, although there was a pretty large Indo-Pakistani community, the resources were very spread out. That is to say, there was no central area to find food (think Adam’s Morgan in D.C. or Curry Hill in NYC), and there were maybe one or two good Indian grocers selling everything from spices to Indian sweets to household goods.
I used to love visiting my family in Toronto, an incredibly ethnically diverse city. There are West Indian neighborhoods, Indian areas, Chinese, Philipino, Latin American – all distinct areas. Ambling down Gerard Street, one of those streets that literally transport you into a different country, you can find row after row of Indian restaurants and shops– clothing, groceries, dvd’s, jewelers…you name it.
One of my favorite parts about the trip (because I can assure you shopping for clothes with the women in my family is nothing short of arduous) was visiting the various chaat houses. Chaat is a general term and includes any Indian snacks that have puris, puffed rice, fried noodles or dumplings with potatoes, lentils, chickpeas or even mung bean, all doused in spicy, tart, tangy sauces. “Junk food”, we’d call it. I would devour these chaats and wash it all down with falooda (which I mentioned in my sugar plum post and which I will have to make at some point); it’s really what got me through these shopping trips.
Tamarind, cilantro, chilies, onions, and yoghurt were all featured heavily in these dishes, but it was the spice mix, the chaat masala, that really made them distinct. Chaat masala includes a staggering number of spices, but one flavor that stands out from them all is black salt. Black salt, or Kala Namak, is a grayish rock salt, and it, quite frankly, has a smell similar to eggs. It has a sulphurous quality, and, although that may not sound too appealing, I assure you once mixed in it is delicious!
I thought I would make a ‘slaw for the summer that focuses on black salt. I served it here over a beautiful, simple, grilled swordfish, but it would also be delicious with yesterday’s ribs. The chili powder gives it a little heat, the honey sweetness, and it definitely has the tart and tangy quality of the chaats I remember as a child. Enjoy!
Yields 6 to 8 Servings
For the dressing:
½ cup red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsps honey
3 tsps black salt
½ tsp salt, kosher or sea
½ tsp Indian chili powder or hot Hungarian paprika
½ tsp finely ground black pepper
I roughly ground the toasted seeds)
For the slaw:
½ head green cabbage
½ head red cabbage
1 or 2 carrots, julienned or shredded
1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced
2 green onions, thinly sliced (white and green parts only)
This is super simple as most coleslaws are. I like to combine all of the dressing ingredients, and let them marinate while I’m prepping the vegetables.
For the cabbages, wash thoroughly and remove the core. You can either slice manually or use the slicer in your food processor to achieve the right sized pieces. Combine with the carrots, fennel and green onions in a non-reactive bowl.
Pour the dressing over the vegetables, and keep refrigerated for 2 hours or so. I like to toss the coleslaw every half hour to make sure any dressing that has sunk to the bottom gets fully mixed in. The flavors are much brighter when you let them sink in for a few hours.