Simply put coleslaw is a salad made from shredded cabbage and along with other chopped or shredded vegetables bound with mayonnaise, vinaigrette, or other dressing and sometimes flavored with herbs or fruit.
The word coleslaw comes from two Dutch words: kool meaning cabbage and sla an abbreviation for salad—koolsla. Coleslaw is sometimes called “cold slaw”—which is likely a misunderstanding, but aptly describes how this cabbage salad is served—cold (except when it’s served hot as “hot slaw”—which is another story).
There are many variations on the ingredients of coleslaw—two common denominators are cabbage and the dressing to bind the ingredients.
How to Make Coleslaw Without a Recipe:
To make coleslaw without a recipe, you must first decide on what vegetables (or fruits) to combine with the cabbage and then, secondly, on the dressing. These decisions are wholly a matter of flavor and taste. Coleslaw can be sweet and fruity or tart and tangy.
Cabbage yield/servings. A one-pound head of cabbage will yield 4 to 5 cups when shredded or thinly sliced. A two-pound head cabbage will yield 9 to 10 cups when thinly sliced; a three-pound cabbage, 14 to 16 cups. A pound of cabbage will serve three people—that is three servings. If you combine the cabbage with other vegetables or fruits—also shredded or sliced, you will need less cabbage. The basic solid ingredient yield is 4 to 5 cups shredded cabbage or other vegetable will serve three generously.
Cabbage preparation. To prepare the cabbage—use green cabbage, red cabbage, savoy cabbage, napa cabbage, or a combination of these—tear off and discard tough outer leaves, cut the head into quarters, remove the core, turn the cut side down, and slice crosswise into thin shreds with a sharp knife or you can shave the cabbage into fine slices using a cabbage cutter. Place the cabbage in a large bowl until you are ready to add the other ingredients. (You can allow the cabbage to wilt after shredding—about 1 hour.)
For a more savory coleslaw, salt the shredded cabbage then let it dry for an hour, rinse, drain, then dry; this draws the water out of the cabbage and its sweet fruitness is replaced by a more complex, savory flavor.
Add other vegetables and fruits for flavor and color. Cabbage is the main ingredient of coleslaw, but other vegetables can be added for flavor, aroma, and color. The additions may vary from half as much to a third, quarter, fifth, or less of the cabbage used. Here are some fresh vegetable and fruit suggestions for coleslaw and the flavor qualities they bring:
- Red cabbage--for its pungent, peppery qualities and color.
- Carrots shredded (1 medium carrot shredded is about 1 cup)—for sweet flavor, crunch, and color.
- Celery coarsely chopped (1 medium to large stalk chopped is about 1 cup)—for crispness and flavor.
- Radishes coarsely grated (9 large radishes grated is about 1 cup)—for peppery flavor, crunch, and color.
- White or red onion sliced or small diced as thin as possible—for pungent sweetness and red for color.
- Scallions or spring onions sliced—for sweet and pungent flavor.
- Bell pepper—green or red—sliced—for sweet flavor and color.
- Jalapeno or Serrano peppers—seeds and stems removed—thin sliced—for moderately hot, green vegetal flavor.
- Cauliflower thinly sliced—for sweet, slightly nutty flavor.
- Celery root (celeriac) cut into matchstick julienne—for a pronounced celery taste.
- Kohlrabi cut into matchstick julienne—for peppery freshness.
- Cucumber chopped—for a pleasant fresh flavor and crunch.
- Pear cored and coarsely chopped (1 medium pear is about 1 cup chopped)—for sweetness; use red pears for color.
- Apple cored and coarsely chopped (1 medium apple is about 1 cup chopped)—for sweet or tart flavor; use reds for color.
- Orange or mandarin sectioned–for sweetness and color.
- Pineapple—for sweet-tart flavor.
- Raspberries—for sweet, slightly acidic flavor and color—black, golden, or red.
- Blueberries—for sweet flavor, color, and crunch.
- Seedless raisins—for sweet flavor and chewiness.
- Italian parsley chopped—for slightly peppery, tangy fresh flavor.
- Watercress—for a pungent, peppery, slightly bitter flavor.
Dressing coleslaw for flavor and to bind the ingredients:
Use mayonnaise, vinaigrette, or other dressing to bind coleslaw. The dressing should just coat the cabbage and other ingredients.
Mayonnaise dressing. Mayonnaise dressing is a cold, thick, creamy sauce basically composed of egg, oil, and vinegar (acid), to that spices are added for piquancy. You can simply buy mayonnaise or you can make mayonnaise (To yield 1 cup: 1 teaspoon egg yolk, a tablespoon of water, and 10 ounces of vegetable oil—adding additional spices or aromatics for seasoning is variable—whisk the yolk, drizzle in oil while whisking until the mixture is thick enough to cling to the whisk—not more. The aromatics include the acids such as lemon juice, vinegar, wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar, cider, or orange juice.)
Vinaigrette dressing. Vinaigrette dressing is a temporary emulsion (meaning shake to use) of oil and vinegar–usually three parts oil to one part vinegar–seasoned with herbs, spices, salt and pepper. Again, you can simply buy vinaigrette or you can make vinaigrette. (Olive oil is a peerless choice for vinaigrette; use red or white wine vinegar or lemon juice or sharp vinegar.) For coleslaw, cream can be substituted for the oil combined with sharp vinegar. Shake the mix in a covered jar.
Seasonings. To either mayonnaise or vinaigrette, seasonings and flavorings can be added: salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, minced garlic, mustard, honey, sugar, ginger peeled and finely chopped, yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche, and whipped cream are a few.
Dressing ratio to solids: You will need about ½ cup dressing for every 4 cups of shredded cabbage and vegetables. This is to lightly coat the vegetables with the dressing.
Garnishes. Garnishes, as well, are easily added to the finished mixture of cabbage and dressing. Here are a few garnishes for coleslaw: peanuts—salted or roasted and unsalted, cashews, walnuts, Parmesan cheese, blue cheese, bacon bits, dill seed, caraway, parsley, raspberries, mandarin sections—garnish to flavor and taste.
Putting it all together–Making Coleslaw:
Step 1: Prepare the dressing.
Step 2: Combine in a large bowl the cored and shredded cabbage with your choice of added vegetables and fruits, also shredded, and toss.
Step 3: Pour dressing over the cabbage and mix lightly; add enough dressing to evenly coat all the vegetables (or fruit). Season the mix with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Cover and chill for 30 minutes to 3 hours allowing the flavors to permeate and the cabbage to soften. Coleslaw will keep in the refrigerator for up to three days—but if you add mayonnaise it’s best to chill and serve in 30 minutes.
Step 4: Garnish and serve. Coleslaw is a great complement to pork chops, roast pork, baked ham, grilled foods, sandwiches, hamburgers, and even savory crêpes.