Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Hungarian slaw

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 Hungarian slaw A favorite summer salad takes on a Hungarian accent in this luscious variation with sour cream and paprika.
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Hungarian slaw

When summer is in session and you're looking for something light and refreshing, it's hard to beat a dish of cool slaw. Or cole slaw, come to think of it, a moniker said to descend from the Dutch or German words "Kool" or "Kohl," meaning "cabbage."

Slaw makes a great picnic dish, and it's a classic companion with barbecue. In some parts of the world, they even serve it on barbecue, a custom that some might consider going just a bit far.

Like most old country-style recipes from around the world, slaw comes in countless variations, and like so many popular American dishes, it has its roots in the Old World; just about every country in Central and Eastern Europe makes a version of it.

Broadly described, though, and ignoring for the moment such pleasant oddities as Asian slaw and broccoli slaw, slaw is made from cabbage and comes in two basic forms: Made with a tart, tangy vinegar-based dressing, generally with a little sugar added to provide a balanced sweet-sour flavor; or creamy, with a dressing based on mayonnaise or sour cream.

I usually prefer the creamy style, as long as it's not too creamy. I like it lightly dressed with sauce, not swimming in a gloppy pool.

Over the weekend, invited to a picnic by some former Toledo residents who'd brought back from the Ohio city a basket full of Hungarian hot dogs, hot pickles and condiments from Tony Packo's - the Hungarian deli that Corporal Klinger of M*A*S*H made famous - I whipped up a Hungarian-style slaw to bring along as a side dish.

Sour cream and lots of paprika make it Hungarian, and starting with the freshest, greenest cabbage of summer makes it good. The following process is quick and simple, but if you take the slight extra time needed to slice the cabbage and onions paper-thin, the effort will pay dividends in flavor. If you want to avoid a gloppy slaw, take care to add the sour cream just a little at a time, stopping when it approaches the consistency you desire.


(Makes a large bowl full)

1 medium to large head of fresh, green cabbage
1 medium sweet onion, Vidalia or similar
1/4 cup finely chopped green pepper
3 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
Black pepper
Hungarian paprika (mild, sweet or a combination as you like it)
16 ounces sour cream


1. Wash and dry the cabbage, cut it in half, place each half flat-side down on a cutting board and slice it into the thinnest slices you can manage. It's best to cut out and discard rather than using the hard core. Place all the sliced cabbage in a large bowl.

2. Peel the onion, halve and slice it in exactly the same fashion as the cabbage, paper-thin. Put the onion in the bowl with the cabbage. Mince the green bell pepper fine and add it to the bowl.

3. Mix the sugar into the white vinegar, stirring it well until the sugar dissolves. Pour this over the cabbage, onion and green peppers, add salt and pepper and paprika to taste, and mix the vegetables well, turning them over and over with your hands. Set aside for about 15 to 30 minutes or until the cabbage wilts down a bit and puts out some liquid.

4. Add the sour cream, a little at a time, working it in before adding more. If you don't like a gloppy, over-sauced slaw, stop adding sour cream as soon as it reaches the desired consistency. (Bear in mind that it will shed a little more liquid as it stands, so you may wish to stop while it's a bit on the dry side.)

5. Taste for seasoning, adding a little more vinegar or sugar as needed to achieve a pleasant sweet-sour balance. Place it in a fresh bowl, sprinkle the top with more paprika until it's attractively speckled with dark red.

6. Chill until ready to serve.

MATCHING WINE: Slaw is usually a side dish, so you'll want to pick wine (or beer) to go with the main course. At this particular picnic, a variety of crisp, dry rosés went very well indeed with both the spicy dogs and accompaniments and the creamy slaw.

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