There’s no good reason to depend on bottled cole slaw dressing, made up mostly of ingredients we’d never find in our own pantry cabinets. Not when it’s so quick and easy to make our own dressing from the fresh things we do have in our cabinets or refrigerators.
Whether you like the slightly tangy-sweet creaminess of a mayonnaise-based cole slaw (KFC-style) or an elegant, vinaigrette-type dressing that stands up better to extended time on a picnic table, you can handle it yourself in only a few minutes. The one thing for sure is it’ll taste infinitely better than the soybean oil-xanthan gum concoction you’d otherwise pick up in the dressing aisle.
Begin with a basic combination of 4 to 5 cups shredded or chopped cabbage (red, green or both—you decide) and carrots. Use a food processor to save time or chop by hand for a more rustic texture. Then, choose your style and dress it up!
Creamy Slaw Dressing
About 1 Tbsp. finely grated onion* (see notes on this)
1/4 cup mayonnaise (I used canola mayo)
2 Tbsp. whole milk
2 Tbsp. buttermilk*
1 Tbsp. white vinegar or white balsamic vinegar*
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice*
2 Tbsp. cane sugar*
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
A couple pinches white pepper
Grate the onion and use a paper towel to absorb as much excess juice as possible before proceeding with the recipe.
Real cultured buttermilk works best, but you could have similar results with the same amount of plain yogurt or Greek yogurt.
I am a big fan of flavored balsamic vinegars and olive oils, and whenever I have it on hand, I substitute the “Sicilian Lemon” white balsamic for the combined amounts of vinegar and lemon juice in this recipe. If you have access to this product from a specialty store in your area, it’s worth the expense.
Reduce the sugar by half with the white balsamic substitution.
Empty the grated onion into a glass measuring cup. Add remaining dressing ingredients and use a mini-whisk or small spoon to blend into a smooth, even mixture.
Pour half of the dressing over the shredded cabbage and carrots and toss to coat, then add more dressing as desired. As the creamy dressing settles in, the cabbage will soften and shrink a good bit. It’s easier to add dressing than to take it away. Cover salad and refrigerate a couple of hours until ready to serve.
Poppy Seed and Lime Vinaigrette Slaw Dressing
1/2 small onion (sweet, yellow or red—whatever you like)
2 tsp. poppy seeds* (see notes)
2 Tbsp. sugar
Juice of 1/2 fresh lime
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. dry mustard powder
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup canola oil (or other neutral-flavored oil)
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil*
Poppy seeds are sold by the bottle in the spice section of most grocery markets. Celery seed would be a good substitute here, or if seeds cause you trouble, you could easily skip them altogether, but you still want to begin the recipe on the stove.
Extra virgin olive oils provide the most health benefits, but some of them have a very “green” or pungent flavor. For this recipe, use the most neutral-flavored olive oil you can find, such as arbequina. Specialty oil and vinegar shops offer free tastings to help you find your favorites.
Grate the onion into a bowl, keeping the juice. Combine sugar, lime juice, vinegar, mustard powder, salt and pepper in a glass measuring cup.
Place a small, heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat and add the poppy seeds. Swirl the pan constantly and toast the seeds for 2 to 3 minutes, until lightly fragrant. All at once, add the onion (with juice) and the lime juice mixture and stir until sugar is dissolved and mixture begins to simmer at the edges of the pan. Remove from heat and transfer to the small bowl of a food processor. Turn on processor and slowly stream canola oil into the mixture, then repeat with olive oil.
When mixture is fully emulsified, pour about 1/3 cup of it over cabbage mixture. Toss to coat, add more dressing if desired, and refrigerate slaw until ready to serve. Save leftover dressing for use on other salads–perhaps a spinach salad with fresh strawberries.