Coleslaw comes in a wide range of variations, but old-fashioned coleslaw at its most basic is a blend of cabbage and carrot with either a tangy, creamy dressing or a thinner, vinegar-based one. Whether it’s served alongside fried fish or as a topping for a pulled-pork sandwich, homemade coleslaw is a refreshing contrast to foods most commonly associated with warm-weather cooking. You can easily give coleslaw your own twist by varying the cabbage and vegetable choices as well as the dressing.


Cabbage Basics

Old-fashioned coleslaw is most commonly made with green cabbage, but purple or Savoy cabbage can also be used. Savoy cabbage has a less-pronounced flavor than either red or green cabbage, and it has a more delicate texture. Shredding the cabbage produces a finer-textured coleslaw, but some people prefer the extra crunch that comes with chopped cabbage. Regardless of the type of cabbage you use and the cut you choose, salt your cabbage before dressing to remove excess water. Use roughly 1 teaspoon of salt for every 2 cups of shredded cabbage. Salting also helps tenderize the cabbage, making it less difficult to chew. Let the cabbage and salt sit in a colander for 30 minutes before gently squeezing to remove excess liquid.


Coleslaw Dressing

The basic creamy coleslaw dressing is a mix of mayonnaise and apple cider vinegar. Combine in a 3-to-1 ratio of mayonnaise to vinegar, stirring so the two ingredients are fully incorporated prior to dressing. To make variations of this, you can substitute half the mayonnaise with sour cream, yogurt or buttermilk for a lighter-tasting dressing. In some cases, a small amount of sugar is added — especially popular in the South — to balance the saltiness of the cabbage, and Dijon mustard is included for a bit of kick. For vinegar-based dressings, apple cider vinegar, white vinegar or lime or lemon juice is used exclusively — there is no mayonnaise added. However, do add some neutral oil such as olive oil or vegetable oil in a 4-to-1 ratio of vinegar to oil. The vinegar dressing is seasoned with a bit of fresh onion or garlic, salt, sugar and often celery seeds — all of which are added to taste. For both creamy and vinegar-based dressings, optional additions include paprika, black pepper, cayenne pepper or caraway seeds. The amounts you use depend on personal taste.


Other Vegetables

While shredded carrot is mixed in with the cabbage for old-fashioned coleslaw, in theory, you can add almost any type of crunchy vegetable to coleslaw. Minced parsley and fresh sprouts are common ingredients as is shredded fennel or kale leaves. Adding other ingredients may give your coleslaw more visual appeal with bright bursts of color, as well as add a distinctive flavor component that helps your coleslaw pair better with other dishes. To maintain the consistency of the coleslaw, use shredded vegetables for shredded cabbage and chopped veggies for chopped cabbage.


Assembling and Serving

Once the cabbage has been cut, salted and drained, extra veggies have been shredded or chopped, and the dressing made, all you have to do is mix the ingredients. Use a 1-to-3 ratio of dressing to chopped vegetables for a creamy coleslaw that is not too runny. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed after the ingredients have been mixed. If you want, cover and chill the coleslaw before serving. For a cream-based dressing, do not make coleslaw more than two hours in advance as over time, the colors from different vegetables can run, and the coleslaw loses its crunch. Creamy coleslaw may be eaten as soon as it is mixed. Because vinegar-based dressings are so thin, let the coleslaw and dressing rest for at least 20 minutes after mixing, tossing it every five to 10 minutes to evenly coat the vegetables.

Serve either type of coleslaw alongside corn on the cob and grilled meats for a casual supper. The cool crunch of coleslaw pairs well with grilled or fried foods as the crispness adds textural contrast. Coleslaw — especially vinegar coleslaw — may be used as a condiment for sandwiches such as pulled pork or fried chicken.