Nowadays we’re slowly coming out of our social isolation. Planning events with vaccinated friends feels both oddly difficult and yet normal too. Invitations to dinner cause me to pause over what I should wear. Although clothes never caused me more than a moment’s thought before, suddenly I’m stymied. But with Memorial Day right around the corner, I relax. Picnics, pot lucks, and BBQs allow me to forget about clothes and go straight to food.
My “old self” feels comfortable obsessing over what to serve. Whether a main dish, salad, or dessert, I’m in my element when deciding upon, and preparing, food. And my contribution to such festivities is often this easy homemade cole slaw.
Infinitely variable, this cole slaw is simple to throw together with vegetables I typically have in my refrigerator. Plus, it’s pretty on a table – and I give bonus points for any dish like this one, with its pops of color.
Here are the ingredients that I used this time. The dressing stays constant. But the vegetables can change – and do.
When I have lots to do, it is the perfect make-ahead side dish. Preparing this salad the night before an event, I can go to sleep knowing that it will taste even better the next day. Leftovers stay delicious for days after that, too.
Three Easy Steps
- Vegetables first. After gathering your vegetables, shred or slice them into bite-sized pieces. Regardless of how you do it, be careful. My mom used to call her box grater a “finger ripper.” I managed to shred the pinky tip on a cut-resistant glove making this salad. Still, I recommend using those safety gloves as a precaution. Once you have cut all the vegetables, mix them together. PS – Choose a large enough bowl that you can do that without vegetables spilling over the side. I didn’t and then had to move the vegetables into a larger bowl before mixing them.
- Add the celery seed to the salad. See below for more on celery seed.
- Dressing next. Boiling the sugar, salt, oil and vinegar for a few moments dissolves the sugar and salt.
The salad lasts about a week in the refrigerator. As the days go by, it tastes more like sauerkraut. The tang of the vinegar becomes more pronounced, lending an almost pickle-like quality to the vegetables. I love it the first day and later too. Of course, I rarely have enough leftover cole slaw to test out how pickle-y it can get.
A great choice for outdoor meals, this easy homemade cole slaw does not contain any eggs, mayonnaise, or other ingredients that can spoil in the heat. That’s crucial for me, because I’m a bit crazed when it comes to food safety, especially in hot weather.
My mom got this recipe from her friend Leslie. While Leslie called this cole slaw, my mom calls this Jewish deli health salad. Whatever you call it, you’ll find it easy, tasty and infinitely variable.
Tips on Making Easy Homemade Cole Slaw
- Shred or cut the vegetables into fine pieces. Although you can use a food processor, you don’t need one. Certainly an inexpensive flat shredder or box grater will work fine. So does cutting the vegetables by hand. This time, I used a mandoline for most of the shredding. I’m no stranger to the box grater and I’ve gone the “no tools” route too. Use whichever method or equipment works for you. Just keep in mind that the pieces should be thin and not too long. It’s cole slaw, not spaghetti or zoodles.
- Make it colorful. Although I have used just white cabbage on occasion, generally I prefer to mix white and red for the color contrast. Keep in mind that if you use any red cabbage, the longer the cole slaw “marinates”, the pinker the salad will look. I’m fine with that. If you prefer a pristine, white look, stick to white cabbage. Which bell pepper I choose (green, red, yellow, or orange) depends on my mood and what I have on hand. I’ve been known to add other vegetables too. Whether it’s an extra pop of red from a radish or the deep green of broccoli, I’m all about making this a colorful salad.
- Be sure to include the celery seed. Maybe you have never noticed celery seeds and don’t use them. If that’s the case, give these tiny spices a chance. Some say that celery seeds taste like concentrated celery without those nasty celery strings or fibers. Others say they are reminiscent of fennel. Craig Claiborne described the seeds as imparting an “on ne sait quoit” to dishes and recommended using them in any dish calling for fresh celery. In any event, celery seeds, which come from wild celery, are worth learning to use. If you need further convincing, check out food writer Max Falkowitz’s Serious Eats paen to celery seeds. Then try them in this dish and see what the fuss is all about.
Welcome to Progressive Eats, our virtual version of a Progressive Dinner Party. This month’s theme is Memorial Day BBQ and Picnic Favorites! Our host is Jane who blogs at The Heritage Cook
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, a progressive dinner involves going from house to house, enjoying a different course at each location. With Progressive Eats, it’s a virtual party. The host for the month chooses the theme and members share recipes suitable for a delicious meal or party. Then, you can hop from blog to blog to check them out. This month, come along and see all of the delicious BBQ and picnic inspired dishes!
Memorial Day BBQ and Picnic Favorites
- Brandy Slush Cocktail – Creative Culinary
- Santa Fe Green Chile Bacon Burger – The Heritage Cook
- Slow Cooker Pulled Pork – Karen’s Kitchen Stories
- Asparagus Salad with Lentils and Potatoes – The Wimpy Vegetarian
- Grilled Rainbow Potato Salad – Shockingly Delicious
- Potato and Green Bean Salad – That Skinny Chick Can Bake
- Homemade Cole Slaw – Mother Would Know (you’re here)
- Zucchini Salad – Healthy Delicious
Easy Homemade Cole Slaw
- 1 head cabbage or 1/2 head white and 1/2 head red
- 1 bell pepper
- 2 carrots
- 1/2-1 sweet onion (Vidalia) or red onion
- 3/4-1 tablespoon celery seed
- 2/3 cup neutral oil (e.g. canola, corn, avocado, or grapeseed)
- 2/3 cup white vinegar
- 2 & 1/3 tablespoons sugar Equivalent is 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
Shred the vegetables and toss them together in a large bowl.
Add the celery seed to the vegetables and toss again.
Bring the oil, vinegar, sugar, and salt to a low boil in a small pot and stir until the sugar and salt dissolve. Take the mixture off the heat and cool slightly.
Pour the dressing onto the vegetables, toss them well, transfer to a container with a tight lid or cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate the cole slaw for at least 4 hours.
This post is updated from an earlier (July 2011) version. The photographs, text, and recipe format are all new.