I’m a sucker for slaw—I think it’s the juicy crunch that really gets me. Unfortunately, if slaw isn’t made correctly, you get what we’ve all had at one picnic or another— slaw that’s heavy, soggy, and overly sweet. I’ve found that the secret to a great slaw is to make it feel lighter and more like a fresh salad, which is easy to do by just learning a few simple tricks.
Balance flavors and textures. To provide crunch, I like to add vegetables like carrots, celery root, and jícama to the cabbage, and then toss them together with a fresh, bright dressing. While some dressings for slaw can be overly sweet and heavy, I make mine with fresh citrus juice, which gives the slaw a much lighter feel.
Toss with salt, then weight dense vegetables to purge them of excess water.This step makes the vegetables tender and briny and ensures that the slaw doesn’t become too wet once dressed. Coarser cabbages like green and red cabbage benefit from longer purging, whereas a more tender cabbage like Napa breaks down extremely fast, so a short salting is all it requires. Onions also benefit from salting, which mellows any harsh flavors and brings out their sweeter side.
Once it’s assembled, serve the slaw as soon as possible. Even when purged, the vegetables will continue to release water after they’re mixed with a dressing, so they’re best served within an hour or two of assembly. The exception is slaw containing Napa cabbage, which should be served immediately. You can refrigerate leftover slaw for up to two days; it will taste as delicious as ever but will lose some of its crisp texture and will exude more liquid.
You can slice the ingredients for these slaws by hand, but a food processor does the job in seconds. To get the long, thin strands that make a great slaw, you need to use the appropriate blade attachment and then orient the vegetables in a certain way. Here’s how to do it.