Perk up your cookouts with this colorful, tangy slaw
Here in the US, summer cookout season officially starts on Memorial Day. It arrives early this year—next Monday, to be precise (with the weekend before as warmup).
So you’re probably looking for outdoor-friendly food. Especially side dishes with enough flavor to match the burgers, barbecue, and grilled goodies we’ll be preparing. And preferably something you can make ahead of time—so you can enjoy the festivities with your guests, rather than slaving in the kitchen.
How about a colorful coleslaw that features the sweet taste of bell peppers? Add a garlic vinaigrette and maybe a touch of jalapeño, and you’ve got a dish that’s sure to please. Your guests will think you spent hours putting it together. No need to tell them how easy it is.
Recipe: Pepper Coleslaw with Garlic Vinaigrette
The most popular type of slaw in the US is probably mayonnaise-based Creamy Coleslaw. But we’re partial to vinaigrette-based slaws. We appreciate the sharp taste that vinegar brings to the party. Plus, vinegar-based slaws keep better in the refrigerator (and even improve in flavor after resting for a while), so no worries when you prepare them a day or two ahead of time.
You can (and should) eyeball ingredient quantities for this dish. In particular, you may wish to add more cabbage than we suggest. Or fewer bell peppers. Whatever appeals to you will probably work.
We discovered this dish decades ago in one of James Beard’s cookbooks—probably James Beard’s American Cookery. Over the years, Beard did numerous versions of this recipe. But the basic idea remained the same, and our recipe is derived from his various iterations.
Prep time for this dish is 20 to 30 minutes. Then you should let the coleslaw crisp in the refrigerator for at least an hour (2 or 3 hours, or overnight, is even better).
This recipe yields 10 to 12 servings. Leftovers keep well in the refrigerator for 3 days or so if stored in an airtight container. (They’ll be safe to eat for a week or even longer, but the quality will begin to deteriorate after a few days).
For the Garlic Vinaigrette:
- 2 to 4 garlic cloves (to taste)
- 4 tablespoons cider vinegar (white or wine vinegar would also work; see Notes about quantities)
- 7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (may substitute vegetable oil if you prefer; see Notes about quantities)
- 2 teaspoons celery seed
- ~1 teaspoon Kosher salt (or to taste; see Notes)
- ~½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 green bell pepper
- 1 orange bell pepper
- 1 yellow bell pepper
- 1 or 2 jalapeño peppers (optional; and to taste)
- ~½ red onion (to taste; may substitute white or yellow onion, but red has nice flavor and color)
- ~1 pound green or savory cabbage, shredded (about 1/3 of a large cabbage head)
- slices of jalapeño pepper for garnish (optional)
For the Garlic Vinaigrette:
- Peel and crush the garlic cloves to a pulp, or mince them finely (we often use a mini food processor).
- Add the crushed garlic to a small plastic container with a lid. Add the vinegar, olive oil, celery seed, salt, and pepper (go light on the salt and pepper at first—you’ll be tasting the dish and can adjust seasoning then).
- Put the lid on the container (securely!) and shake so the ingredients form an emulsion. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary.
- Set the vinaigrette aside while you make the coleslaw.
- Wash the bell peppers, then remove the stems and cores. Slice the bell peppers very thinly with a knife or mandoline, cutting them into long strips. You can leave the slices long, or cut across their width into shorter slices if you wish. Add the sliced peppers to a large mixing bowl.
- Wash the jalapeño peppers and cut them 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 the peppers into very small dice (or use a mini food processor; you may want to reserve a round or two of the jalapeño as a garnish). Add the chopped peppers to the mixing bowl, then wash your hands with soap and water to remove the hot jalapeño oil from your skin.
- Peel the red onion and slice it into thin slices. Add the sliced onion to the mixing bowl.
- Wash the cabbage and remove the outer leaves if necessary, then cut it into several wedges. Remove the woody core. Shred the cabbage (a food processor makes this easier) or cut the wedges into strips—starting at one end, cut 1/8-inch strips of cabbage (cut crosswise). Add the chopped cabbage to the mixing bowl.
- Add the garlic vinaigrette to the mixing bowl, then toss thoroughly to blend it with the pepper/cabbage mixture. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Place the coleslaw in a covered container and allow it to crisp in the refrigerator for at least an hour. When ready to serve, garnish with slices of jalapeño pepper, if desired.
- We like to use a fairly large amount of vinegar in this dish. You might prefer less vinegar and a bit more oil. So taste and adjust as you’re mixing the vinaigrette.
- We much prefer cider vinegar in this dish—it adds a nice tang. But wine vinegar, or even plain white vinegar, works fairly well too.
- We’ve never tried red cabbage in this dish, but its color would be attractive. That’s on our to-do list.
- There are several ways of cutting cabbage for coleslaw. We prefer fairly large pieces because we like the texture (and we think we get more cabbage flavor that way). Many cooks prefer to grate the cabbage, although we find that can make the coleslaw a bit 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 the cabbage and squeeze it dry (or place it in a kitchen towel and pat it dry). Then proceed with the recipe.
- The amount of jalapeño pepper we suggest adds the barest touch of heat to this recipe. If you want more, you can double or triple the amount of jalapeño. But be careful—too much can throw the balance of flavor out of whack (and we speak as people who like spicy). If you don’t want any heat, just omit the jalapeño—the coleslaw will still have plenty of flavor.
- We like to use Kosher salt, which is less salty by volume than regular table salt (its large crystals don't pack as densely as table salt). If you're using regular table salt use about half as much as we suggest. But as always, season to taste.
- You can serve this coleslaw with anything, but we think it goes particularly well with burgers, hot dogs, and grilled or barbecued meat or fish. It’s also terrific with fried foods like chicken or seafood.
Summertime, When the Eating is Easy
“Terrific coleslaw!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Great flavor, good looks.”
“Perfect for our Memorial Day bash,” I said.
“So what’s on the menu this year?” asked Mrs K R.
“Probably Barbecued Pork Steaks,” I said. “Served with our own version of KC-Style Barbecue Sauce. But we may decide on something simpler—like Grilled Bratwurst or hot dogs.”
“And this coleslaw, of course,” said Mrs K R. “Although your Hungarian Cucumber Salad makes a dandy picnic dish too. And what about potato salad? We did that terrific Chipotle Sweet-Potato Salad last year.”
“That’s a good one,” I said. “Although this year I’m thinking maybe Horseradish Potato Salad. Or perhaps a nice Southern-style Mustard Potato Salad.”
“Both excellent choices,” said Mrs K R. “I’m getting hungry already. Dessert will be my department, of course. Probably we’ll do our traditional Root Beer Floats—aka Black Cows. Or maybe we’ll use strawberries in an easy no-cook Fruit Fool.”
“Appropriately named for the likes of us,” I said.
“Yup, a topic on which our expertise is unmatched,” said Mrs K R.
Happy Memorial Day, everyone!
Other Cookout and Barbecue Recipe you may also enjoy reading about:
Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Beef Brisket
Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Pulled Pork
Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Spare Ribs
Pineapple, Coconut, and Carrot Salad
Jalapeño Coleslaw with Pimentón
Creamy Cole Slaw
Celery Root (Celeriac) Rémoulade
German Potato Salad with Bacon
Chipotle Sweet-Potato Salad
French Potato Salad
American (Mayonnaise) Potato Salad
Potato Salad Basics
No-Churn Cherry Ice Cream with Chocolate
Or check out the index for more recipes