I always thought I didn’t like coleslaw because all I knew growing up was wilted shreds of cabbage swamped in a mayo dressing, usually served in a single-serving cup accompanying my lunchroom meal. It’s surprising to me that I’ve come full circle, as it’s now one of my favorite salads to make. Once I expanded my notion of coleslaw beyond its classic cabbage-mayo profile, it opened up a world of shredded-salad options that are bright, crisp, and innovative enough to go with myriad dishes. What follows are some of my favorite go-to slaw recipes.
For my Vinegar Slaw, a mix of cucumber and cabbage spiked with fresh dill steeps in a vinegar dressing until both are gently pickled. It’s the most refreshing thing on a hot, sticky day, and it complements everything I love to eat in the summer, which is to say ribs, but also pressed sandwiches and burgers. (In the winter, it’s amazing with schnitzel.)
My husband’s cousin always brings a raw broccoli slaw to family gatherings, and when I was pregnant with my first child, my craving for it went into overdrive. I joked that the kid would probably be 25 percent broccoli slaw by the time he was born. (Indeed, he still likes broccoli.) It’s a delicious combo of thinly sliced fresh broccoli—and don’t forget to use the stems, too—tossed with toasted almonds, finely minced dried cranberries, and shallots or red onion that almost pickles itself in a dressing akin to buttermilk ranch. There’s some mayo here, but it’s in the background. The broccoli is everything.
My mango slaw doesn’t wish to be a side dish at all. Shredded napa cabbage, red pepper, matchsticks of mango, fresh mint, and thin slices of red onion hang out in a lime and rice-vinegar dressing, then get topped with toasted cashews. This dish is very much a salad meal for me, but barring that, it goes well with pork chops, or grilled chicken or tofu.
The last slaw was born of necessity. Whenever I make fajitas or tacos, I find I want a fresh, simple, crunchy way to finish them. This taco slaw is what I landed on: shredded cabbage and carrot (you can use a bag of store-bought coleslaw mix) plus chopped scallions, cilantro if you have it around, then lime juice, salt, and a spoonful of mayonnaise (just a spoonful), all seasoned to taste.
These slaws are everything I wish the slaws I’d known growing up had been—and more.