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
This beautiful salad could go on both seasons -- spring and summer. Simple but full of flavor with the garlic vinaigrette. Thank you, John.
Wow, that is beautiful!...I bet that jalapeño gives it some good zing! Yum..:)
Beautiful! We'll be warming up on Saturday as daughter graduates that day and then we're having a cook out! I've been looking for some salad ideas, this is great. I actually have no coleslaw on the menu! I have a vegan guest so most of the salads I've picked are vinaigrette based, my favourite too.
Have a great weekend, John! Your menu sounds great :)
Hi Ray, this really is simple, isn't it? And so nice from now through Labor Day! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Pat, isn't this pretty? And just loaded with flavor! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Nazneen, your vegan dish would like this. Heck, we sometimes push the meat on our plate to the side just so we can pile more of this on. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
If I were told I had to eat this every single day for the rest of my life, I wouldn't say no!
This is a beautiful salad John and you are right - it would be great along side anything from the grill. That garlic vinaigrette sounds perfect - the colors are amazing and I am soooo ready ... to let the grilling begin! Hope you have a great "warm-up" weekend.
I happen to have everything I need to make this! yay :)
Looks perfect for a summer day! Delicious!
Hi John ,
Beautiful salad with a bold new taste , just the right amount of heat , now this salad can go with cookouts (and dinners) all through Labor Day and beyond and the added touch of the garlic vinaigrette is really the 'cats meow' ... thanks for sharing John , pinning . Have a wonderful Memorial Day Nee :)
Hi GiGi, this really is good enough that one could eat it for a long time without getting bored with the flavor. Not sure about every day for the rest of my life, though. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Tricia, isn't this pretty? I love colorful food! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Kristi, lucky you! Dinner at your house. :D Thanks for the comment.
Hi Honey, it really is nice, isn't it? Great for grilling season! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Nee, looking forward to Memorial Day! Always fun to start summer, isn't it? Thanks for the comment.
Love this sassy coleslaw... It is the only one that my husband would eat. I have to introduce it to him!
Hi Denise, sassy is good in coleslaw, isn't it? I bet your husband would love this! Thanks for the comment.
Oh, such a beautifully coloured slaw - roll on summer - we still have to get through winter:(
Coleslaw is awesome, and this sounds like the best! Love all that celery seed, but I've never had it with bell peppers, so this recipe is on the agenda. Way to go, John!
What a colorful and beautiful slaw...I like the sound of the vinaigrette...perfect for the season! Light and crisp!
Hope you are having a great week John :)
I agree with you on the vinegar type of dressing rather than the creamy dressing. I love coleslaw but my husband was brought up on a diet of cabbage and sultanas and I'm not allowed to bring either into the house! His mother was very fond of making a creamy coleslaw with a lot of sultanas in it and Drew detested it. He's very wounded from the experience! xx
Outstanding Coleslaw recipe and love the post with so much to learn. I also agree that the vinegar is so much more tasty than the creamy. It just seems to give it that pop that we need, besides the creamy gets it all so mushy. I want to have a crisp...coleslaw. When I try this one I will leave off the pepper, that may be too spicy for me. All the ingredients just go so well together, very flavorful. Thanks for sharing this as this is the perfect weekend to try it. Hope that your week is wonderful and enjoy your Memorial Day weekend.
this colorful salad sings and celebrates summer....so pretty to look at,will make a great side for grills and BBQ too,thanks for inspiring :-)
Hi Rachel, soon enough we'll be saying goodbye to warm weather and hello snow! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Pam, celery seed is wonderful in coleslaw, isn't it? Love its flavor! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Juliana, isn't this pretty? And the vinaigrette is so tangy! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Charlie, I've never made a coleslaw with grapes. Have to try it sometime -- when Drew isn't looking. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Dottie, vinegar-based coleslaws are so good, aren't they? I do like the creamy, but make it maybe one time for every 10 times I make a vinegar-based one. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Kumar, yup, summer and coleslaw definitely go together! Thanks for the comment.
Your salad screams "sunshine" with its beautiful colors... we've been having many many gloomy days that seems will never end :(.. Will make this soon with some grilled chicken yumm.
This is zingy yummy perfect Labor Day coleslaw. Beautiful colors!
Hi Amira, it does scream sunshine, doesn't it? :-) This would be terrific with grilled chicken! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Minnie, isn't this great? Such wonderful flavor! Thanks for the comment.
Happy Memorial Day! Although you are now thinking of barbeques and outdoor living, cabbages grow beautifully through Autumn and Winter in Australia so you have satisfed our dual eating purposes. Great combination of vegetables with this amazing garlic viniagrette :)
What a lovely way to enjoy your summer... with all the refreshing crunches and colours! Happy Holidays :D
Loving your summerish and colorful coleslaw. It sounds amazing!
I want to go to your Memorial Day bash if this slaw is on offer. :) argh I can't leave my urn because it says I have illegal characters.
Thanks for sharing another way to prepare coleslaw!
Quick easy and coloful John! Who wants to be slaving in the kitchen all day? This is a great make ahead side dish for any gathering these warmer months. Memorial day is not acknowledged in HK, but will be thinking of all the brave men and women who have fought for us. Instead here in HK May 25th is Buddha's B-day. I really have no idea what is done to celebrate that but why not this delicious pepper coleslaw, I will just add some Chinese cabbage instead... LOL Take care, BAM
Hi Zoe, it's a nice summer dish, isn't it? Thanks for the comments.
Hi Taruna, it is amazing! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Maureen, don't you hate that illegal character thing! Annoying. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Peachy, glad to do it! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Merryn, I've made slaw in the winter too! Just eat much more of it in the summer. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Bam, Buddha's birthday must be a fun celebration! And Chinese cabbage would be a wonderful substitute. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
I love the sound of the crisp slaw with a garlic vinaigrette - yum!
We're fans of vinaigrette, and garlic vinaigrette sounds great. Crisp chilled salad and this dressing is just perfect, John!
Julie & Alesah
Gourmet Getaways xx
Don't leave me alone with that garlic vinaigrette. I will eat it all!
Hi Pam, coleslaw done this way is done right, in our opinion. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Julie & Alesah, love crispy salads at this time of the year. Winter, too, actually. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Laura, it's good enough to eat all by itself! Eliminates the worry of vampires, too. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Colorful and antioxidants packed summer salad I would say!!
I saw your comment on Taruna's blog for Mango pulp. Thought to answer that. You can find Canned Mango pulp in Chinese stores or any Indian stores. The one you get from Indian Stores are very thick and tastes better because of the Mangoes they use. These cans come in pretty decent size and I always freeze the left over for later use. They are really handy to make lots of Indian Desserts. "Deep's Kesar Mango Pulp" is common brand found in US. Hope this helps.
Hi Shibi, thanks for that info! I literally never thought to look for it. I'm lucky -- I live within several miles of some excellent Asian markets, and not too much farther than that for good Indian markets. ;-) Thanks again!
I'm just now making my menu plans and list for this weekend, and you bet slaw is in the mix. I have to admit, I favor a mayo/buttermilk slaw, but this one is too gorgeous and fresh to pass up. Pinned.
Sounds like you're going to have a terrific Memorial Day bash! Enjoy it - especially that fruit fool. (Whether or not the name fits, it's always a winner!)
Hey John, good to be back! :)
I like the addition of celery seed in the vinaigrette and I think I would enjoy it mostly with beef and a main.
Oh John, bell peppers (or capsicums) are a favourite of mine. This sounds crispy and crunchy!
Hi Lea Ann, we certainly like mayo-based slaws. Just vinegar-based ones more. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Beth, in our case, the name fits! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Helene, so glad you're posting again! And celery seed in slaw is really good stuff. Thanks for the comment.
Hi LIz, this definitely is both crispy and crunchy. And delish. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Sounds wonderful and I love that it's so colorful too!
John....I LOVE the idea of this coleslaw! Though I like creamy versions...I'm excited to try your tangy vinaigrette. And I especially LOVE that you kept your veggies chunky. I agree...more flavorful that way. Thanks for the tip about getting water out of your cabbage...I will certainly try that in the future. Hope you and Mrs. KR have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend! : )
Hi Chris, colorful is good! :-) As long as it's flavorful, and this is! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Anne, we tend to like texture, so chunky works for us. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
yumm! What a scrumptious coleslaw! Love your recipe! Thanks for sharing!
I can see this as a great topping for fish tacos.
Hi Marcela, it's really a tasty coleslaw! Nice to look at, too. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Karen, exactly! Thanks for the comment.
Looks do fresh and crunch! This is a perfect for the warm weather days. Like the garlic vinaigrette!
Yum! This looks like perfect for the Chicken BBQ I'm planning to cook later!
I love bell peppers, especially in summer when they are in season and so cheap. I have never thought of basing a coleslaw around them and love the idea. In summer, at our farmers market, I see bells of every color--white, purple, striped, as well as the standard green, red, etc. Love the vinaigrette. Thanks for another wonderful recipe. --Rocquie
Hi Holly, garlic vinaigrette is wonderful stuff, isn't it? Thanks for the comment.
Hi Lizzie, this is terrific with chicken BBQ! Enjoy. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Rocquie, I was looking for purple peppers when I was making this! Couldn't find any, though -- they'd be pretty in this, I think. Thanks for the comment.
I would chose this over the creamy slaw anytime. Really like the fresh vinaigrette with the crisp veggies. Perfect light spring salad.
Hi Asha, vinaigrette is wonderful stuff, isn't it? Love it! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I bet this would be a wonderful side with a slow cook, or I could turn the heating right up and pretend its summer. :) Delicious salad.
Hi Anna, this is really a good dish almost any time of the year. But turn the heat up -- it's probably at its best when the weather is warm. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Feeling healthier just by reading this damn delicious salad recipe!!!
Hi Dedy, this is pretty healthy stuff. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Wow, this salad looks so summery and fresh, perfect to celebrate the season.
This is my favorite kind of slaw - no mayo. I love the idea of the garlic vinaigrette.
Hi Daniela, isn't this nice? We love its robust flavor! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Pamela, always hard to go wrong with garlic vinaigrette. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
This looks like the perfect slaw to go with everything from bratwurst on the grill to planked salmon. I especially like the vinaigrette. Too many slaws get drowned in mayo -- a true crime in my book.
I love coleslaw and will definitely add loads of bell peppers to my next batch! Yours look fantastic. Hope you're enjoying the holiday weekend!
Hi Carolyn, I do like mayo slaw, but almost never make it -- vinaigrette is so much more to our taste! And this one is particularly nice. Thanks for the comment.
Hi LIz, bell peppers add so much flavor and color to coleslaw, don't they? Our holiday weekend has been wonderful -- hope yours is the same! Thanks for the comment.
This would be a nice side for any grilled meat, yum!
Hi Raymund, it would! Fried chicken, too. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
What a perfect Summer time happy harvest meal! Can't wait to enjoy with our veggies!
I am also partial to a non creamy coleslaw. I hope you had a wonderful weekend with all the delicious food that you guys had planned. Your coleslaw is making me feel it is summer, though it has been raining so much here that it is hard to imagine a shining sun.
Hi Pamela, your garden is amazing -- this is the perfect recipe for you! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Ansh, sorry about all your rain! We've had some, but much more sun. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
I am not a huge fan of mayonnaise-based Creamy Coleslaw, but I do love the sound of this garlic-vinaigrette coleslaw with chunky vegetables! Thanks so much for sharing!
Hi Shashi, chunky veggies are awesome, aren't they? ;-) Thanks for the comment.
I'm usually not a fan of the creamy coleslaw, but I need to try this garlic-y vinaigrette version of it!
Hi Sammie, garlic helps any coleslaw! As do celery seeds. Thanks for the comment.
I love this!! I am not a fan of mayo based coleslaws so this is perfect for me!!
Hi Nagi, this has a lot of flavor -- you'd like it! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
If all the dishes mentioned in the conversation between you and Mrs. KR were served on the holiday... you must have had a nice holiday!!! I like the apple cider based coleslaw. It sounds very refreshing! I like all kinds of coleslaw. Makes me feel good after eating all the meaty dishes. Haha. =P
Hi Nami, we finally settled on just a few of them. :D It'd be fun to make them all, though! Thanks for the comment.
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