One of the toughest things about living in New York City is the lack of any outdoor space. During the winter when the city is cold and wet, you don’t miss it so much. But now that it’s summer, there’s nothing I like better than sitting outside on a warm, breezy day.
Of course, there are plenty of parks in New York, along with a beach that’s an hour train ride away—not everything is cement and steel. But there’s something to be said about having your own space, and besides the fire escape outside my bedroom window, I have no outdoor space to call my own.
Because I don’t have a yard, I also don’t have a grill or a smoker, which means my knowledge of outdoor cooking is purely based in theory and not in practice. That said, I do have friends here who do have outdoor spaces and they are kind enough to invite me over when they have backyard barbecues. As I don’t like to show up empty handed I have to say that I’ve become quite adept at side dishes and portable desserts. And heck, while I love to gnaw on a smoked rib or tuck into a fatty smoky piece of brisket, I’m just as inclined to get seconds on the coleslaw or potato salad, too.
People are often surprised when they visit Texas for the first time and see people enjoying vegetable dishes. While it’s true most Texans love meat, Texas also has a rich tradition of farming and home gardening, which makes for a multitude of side dishes since after you harvest that patch of land you need to eat what you’ve grown.
One of my new favorite summertime side dishes is this zucchini slaw. Growing up, my dad’s side of the family always had a tangy, mustardy coleslaw at its summertime gatherings. Many slaws can fall into the sweet category, but this one was decidedly savory, it’s sharp acidity going well with any rich, fatty meat you’ve smoked or cooked on the grill.
This slaw isn’t an exact duplicate of what we ate growing up, as for one thing it uses shredded zucchini instead of cabbage as its main ingredient. And I will admit that the first time I heard of someone using julienned raw zucchini instead of cabbage, I thought it was strange. But the zucchini makes for a crunchy and crisp salad base and goes very well with the carrots, jalapeños and green bell peppers, all tossed with a zippy dressing. Though besides tasting good, one of the best things about zucchini slaw is it’s an excellent way to use up your garden’s bounty.
Sure, side dishes may not be the main event at your backyard barbecue, but there’s no reason why they should be an after thought. And yes, while it may not be the centerpiece of your summertime party, this salad will definitely be a very welcome guest.
4 zucchini (about 1 pound)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 carrot, shredded
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 jalapeño, seeds and stem removed, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeds and stem removed, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 small red onion, diced
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
Dash of cayenne
Using a knife, food processor or julienne peeler, cut the unpeeled zucchini into thin matchstick-sized pieces, about 4 inches in length. Place the julienned zucchini into a container, toss with the salt and refrigerate for an hour.
Drain off the excess liquid, and then toss the julienned zucchini with the shredded carrot, cilantro, jalapeño, bell pepper, garlic and red onion. Stir in the mayonnaise and mustard until they are well combined with the salad. Add a pinch of cayenne and salt to taste.
Chill for one hour. Serve cold.