At the risk of sounding like an absurdly superannuated Holden Caulfield: I hate phonies. My lifelong antipathy for people and things pretending to be something other than themselves, though it certainly peaked during my whiny youth, regularly reasserts itself. I’m not sure this is my best quality, but, in the interest of following the principle I’m just about to outline here, I may as well own it.
Laminate floors pretending to be wood, for instance, really rankle me, as do veneers of all kinds, cubic zirconium, silk greenery, pleather, and collagen injections. I want them all to be what they really are. Something in me respects, almost above all else, a lack of guile, an unabashedness. Give me colorful plastic beads over “faux pearls” any day.
That’s precisely why I feel at peace with my laminate countertops. While it’s true that I don’t love them and that their replacement with some type of butcher block lies about half way down the “long list” of home improvement projects for my hunky carpenter-husband, I don’t mind them too awful much precisely because they bear no resemblance to anything except laminate. They aren’t “faux” anything. When you see them, from well across the room, you don’t wonder what they are. They are, very simply, themselves. And I think there’s honor in that.
When it comes to foods pretending to be something other than themselves, my distaste verges on disdain. Meatless hotdogs, turkey bacon, nondairy whipped topping, chicken-free chicken tenders, fat-free half-and-half, soy cheese, sugar substitutes, nondairy frozen dessert, gluten-free flour, and salt-free salt. Heaven help us, if Michael Pollan can’t. I emphatically and self-righteously refuse to feed my family food forgeries.
So, when I tell you right now that this recipe is a lettuce-free Caesar salad or that it’s topped with something so smoky and crunchy you’ll almost think it’s bacon, just bear with me for a minute. It’s not coleslaw masquerading as a salad, or a salad designed to sneak in some extra cruciferous nutrition. And the nuts that go on top really aren’t trying to be bacon, but they have a little bit of baconness about them, just as a matter of serendipity. (It’s the smoked paprika–nothing more.)
This is a main-dish coleslaw, if you can imagine such a thing. A big, beautiful salad perfect for the dead of winter when the best tasting vegetables are those that grow in cooler weather in far-off places and then, hard as softballs, travel cross-country none the worse for wear. Crunchy and wet, salty and sweet, and (I promise) utterly guileless. My whole family ate it (almost)…and the outlier has recently declared his intention to start eating vegetables “when I turn four.” We’ll see.
The nut recipe here is adapted from Ina Garten’s Chipotle and Rosemary Roasted Nuts, which, by chance, my friend (and most loyal reader) Elizabeth texted me about one day last month, as I happened to be preparing to throw together my third batch of the very same recipe. (I had distributed the first two batches as part of teachers’ gifts.) What are the odds of that? It’s too good to reserve for Christmastime–am I right, Elizabeth?–especially given that I use candied nuts all year long on salads. Plus, the absolute unlikelihood of the two of us preparing the same nuts recipe seemed almost like a sign.
Main-Dish Coleslaw with Smoky Praline Pecans
Phase 1: For the nuts…
4 cups of pecans (or a nut of your choice)
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
kosher salt, to taste
1. Combine all the ingredients in a big glass casserole dish.
2. Roast at 375 degrees for 25-35 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are beautifully glazed. The liquid around them should turn thick, like caramel. Salt them generously when you remove them from the oven.
Once it cools, it will be hard and amber colored. You’ll need a metal spatula to break them up.
Phase 2: Now, make your coleslaw. Alternatively, just eat all the nuts as snacks and forget about the greenery. Your call.
For the coleslaw…
A small head of cabbage
Your favorite bottled Caesar dressing
Crumbled feta cheese
A quarter to a half of a small red onion, thinly sliced
A small handful of dried fruit (like craisins, raisins, or dried cherries)
A handful of chopped smoky glazed nuts (from above)
One soft-boiled egg per serving (optional)
1. Chop your cabbage into confetti.
2. Put it into a big bowl and add enough dressing to suit you, as well as all the other ingredients (except for the egg).
3. Serve with a sliced soft-boiled egg on the side.