How To Make Better Coleslaw: Veggies And Dressings

Coleslaw is delicious, healthy, and versatile. The combination of shredded vegetables with a tasty dressing is quick and straightforward to make and I love making it, especially in the summer. I looked into what are the best cabbages and dressings for coleslaw.

Four varieties of cabbage are excellent for coleslaw: green/white cabbage, red/purple cabbage, Napa cabbage (also called Chinese cabbage), and Savoy cabbage. Creamy or vinaigrette dressings are the most popular. Coleslaw pairs brilliantly with foods like burgers, barbequed meat, tacos, and grilled salmon to make it a classic side dish at picnics and barbeques.

The name “coleslaw” derives from the Dutch words “kool,” meaning cabbage, and “sla,” meaning salad. “Kool” can also mean a member of the Cole family, which includes Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, bok choy, and kohlrabi, as well as the cabbage plant.

What’s the best way to prepare and shred the cabbage? What are the tastiest dressings for coleslaw? Need some ideas for the best pairings of coleslaw with various dishes? Let’s explore in this article.

Which Cabbage Is Best For Coleslaw?

Green/white cabbage

This is the one most frequently used in coleslaw. It works particularly well with heavy, creamy dressings because of its crunchy texture. White cabbages are, in fact, a type of green cabbage: the sun transforms the outer leaves into pale green, leaving white, tightly packed leaves in the center. They may also be white because they’ve been stored for a while.

Red/purple cabbage

Red cabbage is nearly identical to green and is great to add color to your coleslaw. Sometimes red cabbage is purple depending on the pH value of the soil it’s grown in. It tends to be slightly smaller than green cabbage and is slightly more bitter.

It needs a little more seasoning than green cabbage and is often used with a sharp dressing. 

Savoy cabbage

Also called “curly cabbage”, this has pretty, deep green, ruffled ridged leaves. The leaves are looser than those of green or red cabbages and more pliable.

Savoy is softer than the other cabbages, with a nice, mild, “earthy” flavor. It can be used interchangeably in many recipes that call for green cabbage. As with all slaw recipes, make sure to slice your cabbage into similar thin strips as you do the other ingredients. This makes it easy to mix and combine all the components.

Napa Or Chinese Cabbage

Napa cabbage doesn’t look like its cousins: it’s oblong-shaped and has long, light, frilly green leaves that grow off thick, crisp, white stalks.

This is the softest and sweetest of the cabbage varieties and is excellent in coleslaw. The flavor is mild, with a slight hint of pepper. As it wilts fairly quickly, you’ll need to serve the coleslaw quite soon after preparation.

How To Shred Vegetables For Coleslaw

Prepping the cabbage you select for coleslaw is relatively quick. Remove any outer leaves that look ragged or withered. And even if they look good, it’s best to discard them because they’ve been on the grocery shelf and elsewhere.

Rinse and pat the cabbage dry and cut in half from pole to pole. Then remove the triangular-shaped core with a sharp knife. Or, place each half cut side down and slice thinly, working around the edges. Slice nearly to the center core and then discard the core.

You can also use a food processor or a box grater for shredding cabbage.

Carrots are commonly used in coleslaw. They can be prepped using the tools mentioned above. I like to grate mine.

Tip: if you put the carrot strips in a bowl of iced water for half an hour, they will crisp up. Drain them well, wrap them in a clean cloth, and shake to remove all excess water.

Beets and apples (both popular in coleslaw) can be grated using the large holes of a box grater.

For preparing coleslaw in advance, see my article on shredding cabbage in advance and how long it lasts.

Best Dressings For Coleslaw

Typically, there are two types of dressings for coleslaw: creamy or vinaigrette made from a combination of oil, vinegar, and seasoning. Vinegary coleslaw is best for meat which is richer and fattier as it cuts through the grease.

Put all the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl and whisk. Mix the dressing well into your coleslaw and place it in the fridge for an hour or longer for the flavors to develop. Stir it well again before serving as the dressing may sink to the bottom of the bowl.

Creamy Dressings For Coleslaw

Typically a creamy dressing consists of 1 cup of mayonnaise, with a ¼ cup of white wine or apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon (tbsp) of granulated sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. The vinegar loosens up the dressing and adds tartness. Sugar or honey can be added for slight sweetness and to balance the acidity. Salt and pepper to taste should always be added to bring the flavors together.

For a lighter creamy dressing, use Greek yogurt or part mayonnaise and yogurt. Instead of vinegar, use lemon juice.

For an Asian vibe for your coleslaw, use only about 3 tbsp mayonnaise. The other ingredients to incorporate are 2 tbsp of rice wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon (tsp) Mirin (sweet rice wine), 1 tsp granulated sugar, ½ tsp soy sauce, ½ tsp ground ginger, and ½ tsp of sesame oil. (If you can’t find Mirin, you can substitute with sherry or sweet Marsala wine)

Vinaigrette Dressings For Coleslaw

A typical vinaigrette consists of 3 parts of oil to 1 part of vinegar whisked together. Salt and pepper are often added. Adding mustard helps emulsify the mixture, preventing the oil and vinegar from separating. Two teaspoons of mustard powder or a teaspoon of Dijon or wholegrain mustard can be added. The Dijon mustard will provide a stronger mustard taste.

If wholegrain mustard isn’t used, seeds are also delicious when added: 2 teaspoons of toasted caraway seeds or mustard seeds, or some poppy seeds.

A vinegar-based dressing brings a lively element to coleslaw. It’s particularly well-suited to pair with rich meat dishes like pulled pork or ribs. And as cabbage can handle lots of vinegar and seasoning, don’t hold back!

For a Mexican vibe, use ½ cup of olive oil, 5 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice, 1 tbsp granulated sugar, ½ tsp onion powder, ½ tsp ground cumin, 1 small garlic clove finely minced, and salt and pepper.

If you want some sweetness but prefer not to use sugar, you can add pure (sugar-free) maple syrup. Or if the slaw itself contains enough sweet vegetables such as carrots, omit the sugar/syrup/honey altogether.

Here’s my favorite tried and trusted Asian dressing: 1 fresh, medium-hot red chili, deseeded and finely chopped; the finely grated rind and juice of 2 limes, 6 tbsp sesame oil, 4 tbsp fish sauce, 3 tbsp rice vinegar, and 2 tbsp caster sugar. My family isn’t keen on fish sauce, but don’t notice it in this dressing which is a winner.

To add some nuts and seeds use 1 cup of slivered almonds, 4 tbsp sesame seeds, and 4 tbsp sunflower seeds. Melt 1 tbsp butter in a frying pan over medium heat, add the almonds and sunflower seeds, and brown for 3 – 4 minutes; then add the sesame seeds and brown for another minute. Remove the browned mixture and cool. Combine your slaw with the nuts and seeds.

Pairing Coleslaw Variations With Food

Best Slaw For Pulled Pork or Pork Burgers

Pork works well with fennel and red cabbage slaw. The cabbage provides the crunch, and the fennel goes well with pork. An apple sliced finely into 5 – 6 cups of coleslaw will also pair well with pork.

An excellent dressing for coleslaw to accompany pulled pork is ½ cup of crème fraiche mixed with the juice of a lime and salt and pepper.

Best Slaw For Tacos

For chicken tacos, red cabbage slaw that includes a cup of corn kernels is a great combination.

For fish tacos, cilantro (coriander), onion, and jalapeño peppers can be added to your slaw. And salmon taco pairs well with an Asian slaw and dressing.

Best Slaw For Burgers

For a coleslaw that stands its ground when paired with a big burger or deli sandwich, add ¼ cup of thinly sliced red onion and 2 tbsp of chopped scallions (green onions).

Best Slaw For Other Meats

A great zingy Asian vinaigrette dressing that partners brilliantly with Korean BBQ-style meats consists of ¼ cup of honey, 3 tbsp soy sauce, and 1 tsp of ground ginger. 

When serving hot dogs and sausages, add ½ cup chopped dill pickles and 1 tbsp fresh dill to your coleslaw.

How Can I Make My Coleslaw Taste Better?

In addition to cabbage and carrots, typically used in coleslaw, treat yourself to some of the following ingredients.

  • Adding a little horseradish and some shaved fennel gives coleslaw a shot of spiciness and an interesting quality.
  • For an even spicier/hotter coleslaw, minced jalapeño (red chili) peppers, red chili flakes, cayenne pepper, or wasabi will do the trick.
  • Half a cup of crumbled blue cheese works well with a creamy dressing. Use ¾ cup of mayonnaise and ½ cup of sour cream.
  • You can give your coleslaw more of a fresh herb flavor by incorporating some of these: fresh tarragon, chives, dill, parsley, cilantro (coriander), mint, or basil.
  • Nuts add interest to coleslaw: pecans toasted in a dry pan on low for 5 about minutes; chopped almonds, peanuts, pistachios, and walnuts
  • Fruit can also work well: apples finely sliced, dried cherries or blueberries, raisins, chopped seedless red or green grapes, mango, or pineapples.
  • Combining ¾ cup of lightly toasted walnuts, 2 cups of chopped seedless green grapes, and fresh dill and parsley and mixing them into your coleslaw will impress your guests!
  • Incorporate finely shredded beets and diced red or orange bell peppers to add more color.
  • For more crunch, you can add diced celery or finely sliced red or green onions.
  • If you’re making an Asian coleslaw, you could use sliced snow peas (mangetout), finely shredded baby bok choy, and bean sprouts.
  • Seeds are a tasty addition to coleslaw. Sunflower seeds, caraway seeds, poppy seeds, toasted sesame seeds, or dried celery seeds are all popular choices. Or peeled and toasted pumpkin seeds.

Make Coleslaw Without Cabbage

As long as you shred your favorite raw vegetables, it’s a slaw. But to be a “coleslaw,” it should contain a member of the cole family: Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, bok choy, or kohlrabi.

You could try this lovely Lemony Brussels Sprouts Slaw.

If you’re looking for a tasty slaw that’s also good for topping tacos or for a side at barbeques, and you aren’t too concerned about having cole in it, there are other delicious alternatives. Some options include green bean slaw; pickled pepper slaw; and raw beet slaw with scallions (green onions), citrus, and arugula (rocket).


Hopefully, now you know which cabbages are the best for coleslaw. Also important is the dressing you choose which will pair well with your meal. If you like coleslaw, then check out my 8 ways to eat raw cabbage for more ideas.

There are so many options to liven up your coleslaw and the dressings you select. Finding the ones that work best for you and the tastes you enjoy most will be an enjoyable experience.

Have any questions? Ask me in the comment section below and I’ll get back to you.

Tom Hambly

Tom Hambly is the founder of Boss The Kitchen. With a background in cooking and building websites, he enjoys running this site to help other cooks improve. About Tom Hambly.

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