When hosting a backyard barbecue, it is easy to decide to make ribs because everyone loves them. They are one of those universal foods. If you eat meat, chances are you love pork ribs.

But it is a little harder to decide on the sides. Coleslaw and potato salad are the two most common barbecue sides with coleslaw being more prevalent. But how many of us leave that coleslaw untouched? I know I have. Even though I am firmly entrenched in the coleslaw camp, so many versions are lackluster. I love a classic coleslaw with fried chicken or a vinegar-dressed slaw with my pulled pork, but ribs beg for something a little more complex, colorful and assertive.

The purple cabbage, carrots, sweet peppers and onion are the perfect base for a veggie slaw that is dressed with barbecue flavors and a hint of smoky pancetta.

Last week, I smoked ribs for some of my very good “food” friends and I wanted to make a side dish that they hadn’t had this summer. I asked my sister, Mary Pat, what she thought would go well with my menu of saucy barbecue ribs, cheddar-jalapeno cornbread, and my apple-cider dressed cucumber salad. She reminded me of this brightly colored veggie coleslaw. I used to make it all the time, but somehow it fell out of rotation. I am so glad to be re-acquainted with this old friend.

I originally created this Confetti Coleslaw to go with a meaty chili, but it is the perfect side dish for ribs. It is vibrant and pleasing to the eye, it is chock-full of veggies, and the dressing is spiced with cumin, paprika and cilantro which are perfect companions to rib spice-rub that almost always includes cumin and paprika.

It takes a fair amount of chopping so leave yourself enough time to put it together. You will find that the purple cabbage, carrots, sweet peppers and onion are the perfect base for a veggie slaw that is dressed with barbecue flavors and a hint of smoky pancetta and sweetness from white raisins. I love how the hearty slaw echoes the smoky sweet flavors of my barbecue-sauced ribs. If you don’t feel like making ribs, it is equally delicious with chicken, grilled salmon, a burger or chili. It’s the perfect side to celebrate the end of summer and ring in the fall!

CONFETTI COLESLAW

Servings: 10-12

4 ounces diced pancetta or bacon

1 red cabbage (about 3 pounds) cored and shredded into 1/8-inch-wide strips

4 medium-large carrots, peeled and shredded

1 small yellow bell pepper, diced

1 small red bell pepper, diced

1 small-to-medium Vidalia onion, diced

2/3 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup good quality mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 generous teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro

1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Cook pancetta in a heavy skillet until crisp. Drain and reserve cooked bacon. Reserve a few tablespoons of the pancetta drippings.

In a large mixing bowl, combine cabbage, carrots, peppers, onions and raisins; toss well.

In a small bowl, mix reserved pancetta drippings together with mayonnaise and sour cream until smooth. Whisk in mustard, cumin, paprika and cilantro. Season dressing with salt and pepper. Add more to taste.

Pour dressing over slaw mixture, tossing well to coat evenly. Reserve the cooked pancetta to mix in just before serving. Transfer to a serving bowl. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight to let the flavors marry.

Before serving, re-mix coleslaw, and sprinkle with the pancetta. Serve chilled or slightly above room temperature.

NOTE: If your slaw seems dry, you may need more dressing. This will happen as the size of vegetables vary. You can double the dressing ingredients to make more, but let the slaw sit before adding more dressing because you don’t want to over-dress it.

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