No, it’s not made out of chameleons. (Ew.)
But this slaw does change colors depending upon the “environment” in which it’s placed (which I think is ridiculously cool), and it uses apples, a factor critical to its very inception.
Perhaps I should explain myself.
I’ll start with the apples.
A few weeks before launching Veggie Quest, enchanted by the idea of home-canned applesauce, apple butter, and apple rings, my husband and I decided to go apple picking. We just needed a few pounds for each recipe, not so very many apples at all.
Well, once we got to the orchard—blame it on the beautiful apples blushing coyly on the trees—one thing led to another, and before we knew it, we had fifty pounds of apples.
So we gamely geared up and, peeling and coring for hours at a time, made applesauce. And apple butter. And apple rings. (Lots of apple rings.)
At which point we found we still had 25 pounds of apples left.
Needless to say, we were both a little desperate to get rid of the apples (we live in a one-bedroom apartment; we barely have space for furniture, much less 25 pounds of apples), so I started adding apples to everything.
For instance, when a quarter head of red cabbage I’d stashed in the fridge started looking a little tired, I decided to shred it and toss it with some poppy seed dressing and a diced apple and—sacré bleu!—it was good. And it was pink and purple, which would have thrilled my five-year-old self. (Heck, it thrilled my thirty-year-old self. Who am I kidding?)
So this past weekend, I tweaked my “recipe” (it only has three ingredients) and ended up with chameleon slaw with apples. Home-cooking purists, be warned: I have shamelessly used pre-fab slaw dressing, because it’s tasty and easy. (I don’t know about life at your house, but with the holidays things around here are hectic. If store-bought slaw dressing offends you, though, feel free to leave your own dressing recipe in the comments!)
Beyond being delicious, this slaw is also fun to make. When you add the dressing, the cabbage changes colors from bluish-violet to reddish-purple, while the dressing turns a pink hue. Hence the name, chameleon slaw.
This color change occurs—forgive me for nerding out here—because of the nifty properties of the purple pigments found in red cabbage, called anthocyanins. In the natural world, anthocyanin pigments (which typically range in color from blue to red), serve multiple functions, such as attracting pollinators and helping protect plants from UV damage. In my world? They make plants pretty. Indeed, they are responsible for much of the red in fall leaves, they give pansies their purple color, and they put the blue in blueberries.
The cool thing about anthocyanins like the ones in red cabbage is that they turn different colors depending on whether they’re placed in acidic or alkaline solutions. In acidic solutions, they turn pink or red; in alkaline solutions, blue or green. (For all you chemistry buffs out there who want to know exactly why this happens, check out this page on red cabbage at www.webexhibits.org)
What all this means in practical terms is that red cabbage not only makes for an attractive pink-and-purple slaw, but you can also turn a serving (or two) of your slaw neato colors with common household ingredients. I’ll explain how to do this at the end of the recipe; in the meantime, here are the goods:
- ½ head of red cabbage, washed (just under one pound)
- ½ c Marzetti slaw dressing (my personal favorite, but feel free to use another brand or make your own)
- 2 small apples (I used Gala)
- Shred cabbage. To do this quickly, I cut the cabbage in quarters and cut out the tough white core. Then I cut the quarters into wedges an inch or two across. Finally, I got out my trusty food processor and set up the slicing disk attachment:
- Then I fed the cabbage wedges into the processor across the grain, like so:
- Be sure to use the pusher—and not your fingers—to push the wedges in. (You may need to separate some of the inner leaves from each wedge to fit the wedge in the opening; just shred those at the end. Or cut skinnier wedges.)
- If you don’t have a food processor, you can shred by hand, carefully cutting each wedge across the grain with a knife. Or you can follow the directions in your favorite cookbook. (Best Recipes, by the editors of Cooks Illustrated, has a lovely cabbage-shredding guide.)
- Core and coarsely chop apples. (Leave the skins on; the extra color makes for a prettier slaw.)
- In a large bowl, mix the shredded cabbage and apples. Add dressing, toss to coat, and watch the blue-violet cabbage turn pretty red-purple, thanks to the acid in the dressing.
- Serve, passing around freshly ground black pepper; it’s divine on top
How to turn your slaw neato colors:Now that you have tasty slaw, if you want to have some fun (or amuse your kids), plop about ¼ cup of slaw into each of two small bowls. To one bowl, add a good drizzle of white vinegar and stir. To the other, add a teaspoon or so of baking soda. You should end up with a blue-green color in the baking soda bowl (alkaline) and a bright red-pink color (the dressing will be pure pink) in the vinegar bowl (acidic). Here’s how mine looked:
Should you go that route, tell me how it turns out! Or better yet, email me a picture of your multicolored creation and I’ll post it on the blog.For more info on the acid-base chemistry, role, and biosynthesis of anthocyanins, check out these links: