Barbecue is serious business down home in Texas and bringing meat to the fire is a task trusted only to masters of the pit. The story behind a classic Texan barbecue involves a number of essential and in many ways, secret cooking methods. The first step in the process involves marinating the meat with the right mixture of dry herbs and spices. The second step requires choosing the perfect blend of local firewood from Mesquite, Oak, Pecan or Peach trees. The pit, a customized pot-bellied drum with a built-on chimney is then filled and set on fire. Once the wood has burnt to embering coals, the meat cooks low and slow in a perfumed smoke bath.
The smell of roasting meat and smoking wood is irresistible even for a vegetarian. Just how pit masters make the sacred Texan brisket, German style sausage or glazed baby back ribs, remained a mystery this summer. But thanks to my brother’s excellent suggestions I visited some of the best locations for barbecue in San Antonio and the surrounding hill country.
I loved it all, especially the stories behind the ritual of cooking with smoke and fire. My personal favorites were the “pickins en fixins “ that accompany Texan barbecue. “Pickins” and “Fixins” are creative side dishes like stewed beans, potato salads, coleslaws, cornbreads, seasonal vegetables and homemade sauces that complement the menu. These accessories to a down-home dinner are served in vintage glass jars, and are set on the table next to cowboy style aluminum serving trays filled with smoked meats sliced to order.
Inspired by the panorama of country markets and trendy barbecue joints, I made a coleslaw fit for family gatherings with a spicy avocado-jalapeno dressing.
- 1 small white cabbage weighing approximately 750 grams
- 4 organic carrots weighing approximately 250 grams
- one green onion
- 12 sprigs of flat leaf parsley
- the zest and juice of two organic lemons, approximately 50 ml of juice
- 75 ml. extra virgin olive oil
- a good pinch of fine sea salt, approximately two grams
- one teaspoon of poppy seeds
Ingredients for the dressing
- Two jalapeño or Padron peppers
- 25 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 8-10 sprigs of fresh cilantro
- one garlic clove
- two ripe avocados
- 100 gram thick Turkish or Greek yoghurt
- the juice of two limes
- salt to taste
Wash the cabbage, cut it in half and remove the core. Turn the cabbage cut side down on a wooden cutting board and slice it lengthwise into very fine shreds. Wash the spring onion, then trim off the root as well as any ragged edges on the top. Slice the green tops into ribbons and the bulb into thin rounds. Wash, peel and grate the carrots. Zest the lemon peel and set it aside. Squeeze the juice of the lemons into a large salad bowl Add the olive oil and sea salt and whisk the ingredients into a dressing. Put the cut cabbage, carrot and green onion into the bowl and toss the citrusy dressing through the cut vegetables. Chill the salad for 30 minutes to one hour. The lemon and salt will soften the cabbage while giving flavor to its crunchy rawness.
Meanwhile make the avocado dressing. Squeeze the juice of the limes into a bowl. Wash the cilantro and chop it coarse. Peel the garlic clove and chop it very fine. Cut open the avocados and scoop out the flesh. Put the Turkish yoghurt and the avocados into the bowl with the lime juice. Smash the ingredients into a smooth pale green mousse with a fork. Slice open the jalapeños (Padron pepper or any spicy pepper of your choice) and slice them crosswise into thin circles. Puree the peppers with the olive oil, crushed garlic and cilantro with a pestle and mortar or an immersion blender into a bright green sauce. Mix the ground jalapeños through the avocado mousse The peppers add spice to the fresh and cool avocado.
Remove the cabbage from the refrigerator and pour out any excess juices created by the lemon marinade. Sprinkle the salad with poppy seeds and lemon zest. Add a bit of sea salt if necessary. Scoop the shredded coleslaw into a cabbage leaf and top it with avocado dressing, or simply stir the avocado through the salad and serve.
♦ Suggested combinations
Serve the coleslaw with a barbecue inspired by traditions of the Lone Star State.