Despite its origins as a 17th-century Dutch chilled cabbage salad, with the emphasis on crunch and acidity, coleslaw too often makes an appearance on the contemporary table as a limp, lifeless vegetable mush submerged in mayonnaise that's overwhelmingly sweet. To return the dish to its original function as a palate-cleansing appetizer, cooks have numerous options for reclaiming the balance of ingredients.
Cooks who don’t want to sacrifice the coleslaw’s creaminess entirely have other options than reaching for the mayonnaise. Non-fat Greek Yogurt, for example, steps admirably into the breach, according to Epicurious. Rather than opting for a straightforward mayonnaise and mustard mix, BBC Good Food recommends yogurt to give the creaminess, with just a couple of tablespoonfuls of mayonnaise for mouth feel and to offset the yogurt’s subtle sourness. Cabbage, carrots and onion complete the dish, along with a dash of mustard to cut through the oils. The yogurt gives the coleslaw an invigorating tanginess and sharpness, compared to the rather bland gloopiness of mayonnaise.
To liberate the vegetables entirely, try an Asian-inspired mayo-free coleslaw, which balances the juice of half a lime, with near-equal measures of vinegar and oil for the dressing, ideally using a smoky, intense oil such as sesame. In this case, the crunchiness and snap of the vegetables has to be on-point, so fine-Julienne celeriac and carrots, along with shredded bok choi or cabbage and scallions. Coriander and parsley add herb notes. Choosing fiery, flavor-intense vegetables can also compensate for the lack of mayo. Radishes, for example, impart a dominant heat, while a couple of tablespoonfuls of tahini paste, along with cayenne pepper and garlic added to an olive oil-based dressing, invigorate the dish.
Although traditional coleslaw combines carrots, cabbage and onions, by no means are these ingredients the only options. To stimulate the appetite, French cuisine toys with light, crunchy vegetables such as Julienned celeriac or fennel tossed with matchsticks of apple. For the dressing, mustard, lime juice and olive oil complement the vegetables pleasantly. An often-overlooked aspect of coleslaw is its color palate. To transform the dish from a white cream with flashes of orange, The Kitchn calls for a blend of red and green cabbage, carrots and cilantro, dressed simply with a 1-to-2 parts mix of lime juice and peanut oil.
Apart from the fat in coleslaw, excessive sweetness is also an offender, since many recipes call for adding sugar. For a sweet but zesty coleslaw, with plenty of crunch, blend lemon juice, olive oil and a tablespoon of honey. The result has more depth than a mayonnaise-drenched coleslaw. If it’s too sweet, add salt and pepper for balance. Alternatively, introduce tropical ingredients that bring their own sweetness, such as pineapple chunks or desiccated coconut. A sprinkling nuts such as macadamia or cashew adds some exotic crunch and a savory flourish.
- Culinary Lore: Where Does Coleslaw Come From and What Is the Origin of the Term?
- BBC Good Food: Recipes: Healthy Coleslaw
- Epicurious: Food: Coleslaw With Apple and Yogurt Dressing
- BBC Good Food: Recipes: Crunchy Coleslaw
- BBC Good Food: Recipes: Celeriac Coleslaw
- PBS Food: Stay Healthy With No-mayo Coleslaw
- The Washington Post: Mayo-Free Coleslaw
- Taste of Home: Pineapple Coleslaw Recipe
- The Kitchn: Tri-Color Slaw With Lime Dressing
- Photo Credit olgakr/iStock/Getty Images
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