Papaya and Red Cabbage Slaw

by Dr. Hennie Fisher

Coleslaw, particularly when made with white cabbage and carrots – those to be found close to the check-out counters of take-away shops in little round plastic containers – although often quite satisfactory in taste, does lack a little glamour. This version, made with red cabbage and papaya, homemade mayonnaise and finely sliced Florentine fennel, is nothing like that.

Sources inform us that today’s coleslaw may be derived from a dish that the ancient Romans ate, as they often had cabbage with seasoning such as vinegar. However, the word coleslaw seems to have been derived from the Dutch word koolsla (kool in Dutch and Afrikaans, of course sounded like cole – and cole could have been derived from the Latin word colis, which means cabbage). It may also be through this route that cabbage salad become such an institution in American households, going as far back as 1770.

The salad is has become a regular fixture in many South African meals, and it is a pity that we do not spend a little more time making it into something we want to relish. The cabbage should be sliced very fine, preferably on a mandolin. Because the cabbage is served raw, all those nasty hard ribs and white bits should be removed. The cabbage should also be mixed with the dressing a little in advance so that the acid has time to soften the cabbage ever so slightly, again so we do not feel as if we are chomping on these huge pieces of raw cabbage. Properly seasoned with good balance between acidity, salt and a little sweetness, it is a great standby that can be made ahead of time and will not wilt like salads made predominantly with fresh green leaves, particularly in our hot South African weather.

The papaya of course offers a delightful surprise that is both nutritious and complementary to the red cabbage and the fennel. Be careful to not over-mix the papaya into the rest of the ingredients – the julienned papaya looks great, but also tends to break easily. If one does not mind little cubes, cutting it that way may prevent this.

Ingredients for one large salad, enough for 4 to 6 people

For the hand-made mayonnaise:

6 g (1 large clove) garlic, finely chopped
15 ml (1 tablespoon) grainy prepared mustard
1 egg yolk
5 ml (1 teaspoon) salt
5 ml (1 teaspoon) white sugar
2,5 ml (½ teaspoon) freshly ground black pepper
Zest of 1 medium lemon
20 ml fresh lemon juice
125 ml sunflower oil
60 ml extra virgin olive oil
40 ml dark sesame oil

For the salad:

¼ to ½ (depending on size) red cabbage, very finely sliced on a mandolin
2 medium fennel bulb, finely sliced
A small handful of fresh fennel fronds, finely chopped
A handful of fresh Italian broadleaf parsley, finely chopped
½ medium sized, medium ripe papaya, peeled and cut into julienne sticks


First make the mayonnaise – with the blade of a large kitchen knife work the garlic and the salt on a cutting board into a fine paste. Add to a large bowl with the pepper, sugar, mustard, egg yolk, lemon zest and juice and whisk together until a homogenous emulsification has been achieved. Slowly add the sunflower oil and continue whisking until the mayonnaise is nice and thick. Add the remaining two oils. Check for seasoning, and add a bit more salt and lemon juice if required. Mix in the red cabbage and leave for about 10 minutes before mixing in the remaining salad ingredients. Best served slightly cool but not fridge cold.