Slaw: Mayonnaise Optional, Flavor Guaranteed

Most everyone knows what coleslaw (or slaw) is and people love it or hate it; well, they generally either love or hate the version they’re familiar with. But there are infinite variations–often associated with a particular region–so we’re pretty much guaranteed that there are a ton of shredded cabbage salads we haven’t tried yet. Because of the ease of preparation, the almost infinite possibilities and the flexibility of the ingredients, slaw is a side dish stand-by that provides us with several significant benefits over other salad-type dishes.

There’s one for everyone.  Best suited as a foil for heavy foods, you’ll see them on every smoked meat joint menu in the country. From creamy dressings to straight vinaigrettes and everything in between, it’s not hard to find something to love. Most regions have their own version of it, and most are based on a combination of shredded white and red cabbage, shredded carrot, and a bit of onion. Even sauerkraut, Korean kimchee and curtido–a lightly fermented Latin American specialty–are really just fermented slaws; the difference is in the seasoning and length of fermentation. Similarly, the chow-chow your grandmother made with the last veggies from the garden is a pickled variation intended to extend the shelf life of the harvest. I make a chow-chow that works with meals almost like a pickle–a tart and savory condiment, but I’ve been known to drain it, rinse, and mix with light mayonnaise for a quick side salad.

They stay tasty longer. Unlike pasta or rice salad, which ends up clumpy and dry since the starchy ingredients absorb the dressing’s moisture, slaws don’t suffer terribly when left to sit in the refrigerator for a while. In fact, most slaws benefit from a little sitting around to get those flavors good and melded. Because the veggies contained within are sturdier than lettuce, the effect of a little wilting is negligible when it comes to the quality of the final product.

They’re easy to tweak. With the exception of the fermented varieties, most creamy and vinaigrette-dressed slaws have a sweet-tart flavor. This balanced approach opens the door to almost fail-proof experimentation. You can add sweet ingredients such as raisins and citrus, or you can try my mother-in-law’s favorite: slivers of crisp apple. The sweetness of these additions fits right in but is balanced by the tartness of the dressing. Likewise, the savory aspect to the sauce will accommodate more assertive flavors and keep them in check, allowing you to substitute in everything from shredded broccoli and cauliflower stems to grated raw turnip. This flexibility means slaws can act as the receptacle for cheap, excess and/or underutilized ingredients, even those that may be considered waste, as in the case of the broccoli stems.

Asian Slaw
Asian Slaw / 2 Stars

My Asian slaw is an example of a slaw that can be made year-round because its ingredients are available and of good quality even through the depths of winter. Dressed with an Asian-style dressing that combines the savory-salty flavor of soy with sweet orange and bright fresh grated ginger, this slaw is a great accompaniment for a rich fish like salmon or your favorite grilled meats. Indeed, with some shredded skinless chicken breast or cold poached shrimp tossed in, my slaw becomes a light and refreshing meal by itself. You can even add some chopped toasted peanuts to it, wrap in rice paper (see my tips for working with rice paper here) and you have a tasty and healthy snack.

Asian Slaw

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A little chopped cilantro and lime juice added to the dressing is a delicious alteration to this slaw. You can either eat this quite fresh for maximum crispness or make it up to a day ahead for thorough marination of the flavors.

Servings: 6 (184 g )

Prep Time: 10 min.

Cook Time: 35 min.



  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. orange juice concentrate
  • 2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • Pepper to taste


  • 1 navel orange, peeled and sectioned
  • 1 cup grated cucumber
  • 2 cups chopped spinach
  • 3 cups chopped Napa cabbage


  1. Whisk together dressing ingredient.
  2. Toss salad with dressing. Chill for at least 30 minutes before serving.