Classic coleslaw dressing doesn't need more than four ingredients to impart the creamy mouthfeel and perky sweetness cabbage loves so much. But if you think of coleslaw as a regular salad, you'll get out of the mayo mindset and see the potential that vinaigrette and yogurt-based dressings bring to the table. Classic coleslaw dressing makes a good starting point for adding your own touch, but if you want something different, start with a light dressing and build from there.
Lighter and Brighter
Use vinaigrette as your dressing base for a light, fresh take on coleslaw that doesn't weigh the cabbage -- or you -- down. Thick, rich mayonnaise-based dressings saturate individual shreds of cabbage, essentially smothering them and their crisp mouthfeel. Vinaigrette, which comprises 1 part vinegar or lemon juice to 3 parts olive or regular vegetable oil, delivers a solid base flavor that gives you room to build on with no "mayonnaisey" taste to compete with. You have an array of vinegars to choose from, each with its own distinct aroma, sweetness and flavor, depending on what ingredient it was distilled from. For a sweet edge, try apple cider; for an invigorating crispness, use champagne vinegar. For floral notes, herb vinegars, such as tarragon, soften the pleasant bitterness of the cabbage.
Standard Vinaigrette Technique
All vinaigrettes have the same base ingredients and proportions: 1 part acid to 3 parts oil. Whisk together a pinch of salt and the vinegar and drizzle in a scant amount of oil. Whisk the oil in fully; then add the remaining oil in a slow stream, whisking constantly; you can also add everything to a blender and blitz it until mixed, about 1 minute.
Flavor vinaigrette to taste. For example, if you want sweetness to temper the acid and echo the sweetness of classic coleslaw, mix about 1/2 tablespoon with each tablespoon of vinegar before you add the oil. Add freshly chopped herbs and aromatic ingredients, such as shallots, to taste.
Classic Coleslaw Dressing
Basic coleslaw dressing contains 4 parts mayonnaise to 1 part each sugar and cider vinegar. From there it's up to you. Coleslaw purists insist on celery seed and seasoning salt; whereas, other traditional slaw recipes may call for a spoonful of Dijon mustard, celery seed and paprika.
Classic Coleslaw Method
Classic coleslaw dressing is a breeze to make because you don't have to "make" anything; you just have to mix. You can use a food processors, whisk, fork, spoon or even a jar -- just put all the ingredients in and shake until combined.
Add 4 parts mayo and 1 part each sugar and cider vinegar by volume to a mixing bowl, blender or glass jar. For 1 package of coleslaw mix or 1 medium head of cabbage, you need 1 cup mayo and 1/2 cup each vinegar and sugar. Mix the base ingredients and add the secondary ingredients, such as celery seed, Dijon mustard and paprika, to taste. Finish by seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
To lighten the dressing a bit, use equal parts half-mayonnaise and half-yogurt instead of all mayo. You can forgo mayo and refined sugar altogether and use thick Greek yogurt and a touch of honey to sweeten; then balance it with a generous squeeze of lemon juice. And don't forget about fresh herbs, which add freshness to any type of coleslaw dressing you make and can change the feel of the whole dish.
A.J. Andrews' work has appeared in Food and Wine, Fricote and "BBC Good Food." He lives in Europe where he bakes with wild yeast, milks goats for cheese and prepares for the Court of Master Sommeliers level II exam. Andrews received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu.