Few dishes conjure images of spring for me like pepper hash. Growing up it was a staple at the Easter dinner table, and one of the many things I looked forward to when I thought about that meal. It's green, crunchy, sweet, sour, fresh, and goes with just about everything.
If you grew up in a coal mining region like I did, even if you've never had it, you've probably seen it or heard of it. But for the rest of you, pepper hash, is a sweet and sour slaw, sometimes called pepper cabbage or pickled cabbage. It can be eaten as a side or on top of sandwiches or meat. The sweet is just enough to cut through the harsh vinegar, but it's sour punch makes it a great side dish to richer main dishes like kielbasa or mac and cheese. Yum! There are many variations of pepper hash out there including different proportions of vegetables and various spices, but I really enjoy this one for its simplicity and clean, fresh flavor.
Since I have become a recipe hoarder, my sister will occasionally call me around this time of year for the "right" ratio of sugar/water/vinegar. Usually we just play with it until it tastes right, but this time I've actually measured it! So here it is. My family's version of pepper hash with, what we think, is the perfect balance of sweet and sour.
Everyone likes their pepper hash their own way, and what I think is perfect may be a little too sweet or sour for you, so make it this way and then play with the proportions a little. Keep in mind that you can always add more vinegar, but adding more sugar is harder, so err on the sweet side and head towards sour if needed.
Making This Recipe
Start by making your sugar syrup. Add the water and sugar to a small sauce pan, give it a stir, and bring to a simmer. Once it's simmering, you won't need to touch it again; just let the sugar dissolve completely. Once you can look in the pot and not see any sugar, remove it from the heat and set it aside to cool.
Next, you'll need to shred your cabbage. I remove any wilted or rubbery leaves from the outside first, then slice it starting from the top. Try to make the slices as thin as you can. Once you have all your slices, you can just roughly chop them up into strips.
As you get toward the stem, you'll start to see the core of the cabbage. Remove those parts because they will be tougher than the rest of the leaves. You'll know it's the core because they'll be a different shape and solid white.
Dice your peppers then add them and the mustard seeds to the bowl; give it a quick toss. Once your liquid is cool, add the vinegar, give it one more quick stir and pour it over your vegetables. At this point you can taste it to adjust the flavors a bit. If you think it's too sweet, add some vinegar. Start with just a couple of tablespoons so; don't overdo it. If it's too vinegary for you, you can also dilute it with a little bit of water (just a splash at a time). Give it a few grinds of fresh pepper if you'd like and then refrigerate for at least a couple of hours before serving. It tastes best when the flavors have had a chance to mingle for a little while. You can also make this up to one day in advance for an easy side dish!
Note: If you've added your sugar/water mixture a little early (i.e. it's still a little warm) it may taste sweeter than it will once the salad cools down and the flavors meld. Before you try to adjust the flavors, make sure it's has a chance to cool in the fridge.
1½ small heads of green cabbage, shredded
2 green peppers, small dice
3/4 cup granulated sugar (or to taste)
1 cup water
1¼ cup white vinegar (or to taste)
2 teaspoons mustard seed
Fresh ground pepper to taste (optional)
Add water and sugar to a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer until sugar dissolves completely
Remove pot from heat and allow to cool to about room temperature
In a large bowl, combine cabbage, peppers, and mustard seed
Add vinegar to cooled water mixture and pour over vegetables
Add a few grinds of fresh pepper to taste, if using
Refrigerate for a few hours before serving to allow flavors to meld
Can be made up to one day in advance. Refrigerate for up to two days*
*Pepper hash will last for several days in the fridge, but the texture of the cabbage may become unpleasant after a few days and the color may change slightly.