A Touch of Jalapeño and Horseradish Add Zip to this Classic
Coleslaw is the perfect sidekick for barbecue and cookout fare. And the creamy style brings the forks out fast.
Usually made with a mayonnaise-based dressing, it has an appealing richness that showcases the flavor of the most important ingredient — cabbage.
Every supermarket and deli sells prepared coleslaw, and some of it is pretty good. But as good as what you make in your own kitchen? No way!
This weekend we observe Memorial Day, the official kickoff to summer in the US. What better dish than Creamy Coleslaw to celebrate?
Recipe: Creamy Coleslaw
For years, coleslaw was no great favorite of mine. But then I discovered a version with celery seeds as an ingredient, and never looked back. Celery seeds + cabbage + mayonnaise = incredible flavor.
Probably because of those early memories of so-so coleslaw, I never got in the habit of making this dish. I often bought slaw at the deli counter on the (infrequent) occasions when I served it. But then I got serious about making my own — and rethinking the classic renditions. Most basic cookbooks feature essentially the same version. The Joy of Cooking contains a pretty representative example, and mine is adapted from it.
My version adds a hint of horseradish and jalapeño pepper — enough so you’ll know there’s something going on with the background flavor, but not so much that you’ll necessarily be able to identify what it is. You can use more if you want (see the Notes for some suggestions), but I think this recipe is pretty good as written. I also add some sour cream to my mayonnaise, although you can use straight mayo if you wish.
This recipe makes enough to serve 10 to 12. Leftovers stored in an airtight container will keep for 2 or 3 days in the refrigerator (they’ll be safe to eat for up to a week, but after 3 days or so the quality begins to deteriorate). I actually like to make this recipe a day ahead when I have time — the flavors mingle together a bit more.
- ½ cup mayonnaise (or 1 cup if you omit the sour cream)
- ½ cup sour cream (may omit and double the mayonnaise, but you lose a bit of tang)
- 2 - 3 tablespoons grated or finely diced white onion (about ½ a small onion; I use a mini food processor to chop)
- 2 teaspoons celery seed
- 1 tablespoon jarred, prepared horseradish (optional; may increase/decrease – see Notes)
- salt to taste (I recommend 1 teaspoon)
- black pepper to taste (I recommend ½ teaspoon, more if you like)
- 1 small-to-medium head cabbage (about 1¾ pounds)
- 1 large carrot
- 1 jalapeño pepper (optional but wonderful; may increase amount — see Notes)
- With a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, beat together sour cream and mayonnaise in large mixing bowl (large enough to hold the cabbage) until smooth and creamy.
- Add onion, celery seed, and horseradish. Beat together.
- Taste, then add salt and black pepper to taste.
- Wash cabbage, remove outer leaves if necessary, and cut into quarters. Remove woody core. Either shred cabbage (a food processor makes this easier) or cut each quarter into 3 pieces, then starting at one end, cut 1/8-inch strips of cabbage (cut crosswise). Add to the bowl with the mayonnaise mixture.
- Wash and peel carrot, and grate in food processor or chop in mini food processor. Add to the bowl with the cabbage.
- Wash jalapeño pepper and cut lengthwise. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the ribs and seeds (be careful, the oil on these is hot; keep fingers away from your eyes). Chop into very small dice (or use mini food processor). Add to the bowl, and then wash your hands with soap and water to remove the hot jalapeño oil from your skin.
- Mix all ingredients together until the mayonnaise mixture is distributed throughout the cabbage mix. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Chill for at least an hour before serving (overnight is better).
- If you prefer, you can substitute sour cream for all the mayonnaise. I’d probably then call it Sour Cream Coleslaw, but that’s me.
- For mayo, is Hellman’s or Miracle Whip better? The answer: whichever you prefer! People are passionate about their favorite, as discussed in our post on American (Mayonnaise) Potato Salad.
- Miracle Whip is sweeter than Hellman’s (or most other brands of mayonnaise). If you like a sweeter coleslaw, you may want to add a tablespoon of sugar to Hellman’s.
- If you want a lighter dressing, you can cut the amount of mayo and sour cream in half (use ¼ cup of each) and add ½ cup of buttermilk.
- Some people like to add a tablespoon or so of vinegar to their dressing.
- My version of this dish has just a hint of horseradish flavor. You can leave the horseradish out entirely if you want, though I think it gives the slaw a bit of zip. Or you can decrease it to 2 teaspoons if you want the merest flavor. Alternatively, you could add quite a bit more — in which case you’d have “horseradish coleslaw,” which can be a good thing.
- The jalapeño pepper adds the barest touch of hotness to this recipe. If you want more, you can double or triple the amount of jalapeño. But be careful — I think too much throws the balance of flavor out of whack (and I speak as someone who usually likes spicy).
- You can also add sweet green peppers to your coleslaw. I’d add a whole small pepper or half of a large pepper, chopped or grated.
- There are various ways of cutting cabbage for coleslaw. I like reasonably large pieces because I think you get more of the cabbage flavor, so I always cut it with a knife. Lots of people grate cabbage, but I find that makes the cabbage a little watery.
- Speaking of which, here’s a way to correct watery cabbage: After you cut or shred it, toss it with about a tablespoon of salt, then let the cabbage sit in a colander for an hour or two. Then rinse and squeeze dry (or put it in a kitchen towel and pat dry). Then proceed with your recipe.
- I like red cabbage, but not in Creamy Coleslaw. It tastes better (and the color works better) in a vinegar-based coleslaw.
Fun Coleslaw Facts
Although potatoes, iceberg lettuce, and tomatoes are the most popular vegetables in the US, green cabbage ranks right up there in the top 10. (Other favorites are onions, carrots, celery, corn, broccoli, and cucumbers.) The popularity of cabbage surprised me at first. But it made sense when I thought about it. Since cabbage is the prime ingredient in coleslaw — and because coleslaw is almost universally popular — it follows that cabbage would qualify as a widely munched veggie.
Most of us eat coleslaw as a side dish, but sometimes it’s part of the main event. In the Carolinas, coleslaw often tops barbecued pulled pork sandwiches.
I’m no expert on Carolina barbecue (or Carolina coleslaw), though I’ve sampled it a few times. My impression is that their slaw is almost always vinegar-based rather than creamy. But then, so was the original coleslaw — at least according to the Food Timeline Organization.
Coleslaw actually dates back to ancient Rome, though we in the US borrowed the name “coleslaw” from the Dutch (they called it ”coolsla”). Anyway, mayonnaise was an 18th century invention, so it wasn’t until then that creamy coleslaw (the kind with mayo) could have made its first appearance.
Coleslaw achieved wide popularity in the US sometime in the early 20th century, and by then Creamy Coleslaw was by far the most frequently served variety. Though it seems these days that vinegar-based slaws are making a comeback.
“Fascinating,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Maybe we should do a slaw-off on the blog. Compare and contrast various types of coleslaw recipes. Kind of a cavalcade of coleslaw.”
“It’d be fun,” I agreed. “For creamy coleslaw I think the best recipes are always made with celery seed. Like mine. For vinegar-based coleslaw, I kind of favor a German style made with garlic — lots of garlic.”
“Garlic!” exclaimed Mrs K R. “You’ve never made garlic coleslaw. I’d remember that.”
“No, but it’s a dish I’ve tasted several times. Back in the days when I traveled a lot. It’s really good stuff.” And indeed, during the 1980s and 90s I had a job where I did extensive travel throughout the US. One of the benefits was the opportunity to sample lots of regional foods.
Mrs K R narrowed her eyes. “Why haven’t I heard about this dish before?”
That’s when I decided I better get started working on my garlic coleslaw recipe. But that will be another post.
You may also enjoy reading about:
French Potato Salad
American (Mayonnaise) Potato Salad
German Potato Salad with Bacon
Potato Salad Basics
Barbecued Pork Steaks
Pineapple, Coconut, and Carrot Salad