This is my best coleslaw recipe. Coleslaw is a very simple dish, and while you can make it in many ways, no other recipe yields the perfect marriage between mouth-filling creaminess and balanced acidity as this one. Shredded carrot, white cabbage and red onion are first pickled in a sweet vinegar solution. The quick pickled vegetables are then dressed in mayonnaise. Simple and always very satisfying.
Don’t be intimidated by the idea of pickling the vegetables. This process is really simple and only takes about a half hour. All we are doing here is marinate the shredded carrots, cabbage and onion in a white wine vinegar and sugar solution. The pickle juice is squeezed off before adding the mayonnaise.
This coleslaw recipe only features mayonnaise, and is therefore dairy-free. Some recipes call for a mix of mayo and sour cream, but I prefer to keep things simple and go for mayo only. If you wish to make it vegan, just choose a vegan mayo.
Quick pickled vegetables instructions
First off, we need to prepare the vegetables and the marinade. While this recipe is pretty easy, the quick pickle will take about a half hour so it’s good to begin with that. Here is what you will need (detailed quantities in the recipe card at the end of this post).
- Combine the shredded carrot, shredded cabbage and thinly sliced red onions in a large bowl.
- Pour the sugar all over the vegetables, then pour in the vinegar.
- Using your hands, massage the condiment into the vegetables for about a minute. Rest either in the fridge or at room temperature for 30 minutes, giving it a stir from time to time to redistribute the condiment around.
Why pickle the vegetables for coleslaw?
There are many coleslaw recipes where the main flavouring is in the dressing. Such ingredients as vinegar, salt, sugar or pepper are added to the mayonnaise to make a coleslaw dressing that is then mixed with the raw veggies. But I’d rather do the other way round: keep the mayo simple and do some pre-work on the vegetables.
Pickling the vegetables adds flavour, affects the texture and extends shelf life. Here are some reasons why this is beneficial:
- Pickling draws some moisture out of the raw veggies: that’s fewer chances of a watery coleslaw after a few days.
- Carrot and cabbage are easy to digest raw, but a light pickle makes the red onion easier on the stomach.
- Pickling extends the shelf life of the final product to 5 days in the fridge (as opposed to 3 days).
- No watery ingredients added to the mayonnaise (like vinegar) means perfect creaminess of the sauce.
By combining the raw slaw with vinegar we are doing a quick unfermented pickle, also known as refrigerator pickle. It’s the same process as in the Swedish pickled red onions. For further reading: the difference between various techniques and the science of vinegar pickling.
Assemble the coleslaw
After 30 minutes of vinegar marinating have passed, thoroughly squeeze the vegetables between your hands, in batches, or by pressing them on a colander. Discard all of the pickle juice, dry the bowl and place veggies back in. You will notice a reduction in volume.
Add the mayonnaise and stir gently in, making sure to coat all of the salad. Taste test and only then, if desired, add a sprinkle of salt. Remember that salt draws moisture from the vegetables, so be very spare with it. I generally do not add any if I’m happy with the overall flavour. Mostly it depends on how flavourful the mayonnaise already is. Top with freshly cracked black pepper, if desired.
You can buy shredded carrot and shredded cabbage, or you can choose to buy whole and shred yourself. Whole is cheaper but you may end up with leftovers. If I’m already buying cabbage for another recipe I will shred leftovers for coleslaw. But if I’m only planning to make coleslaw and have no use for a large head, I’ll just buy a bag of shredded cabbage.
As for carrots, I usually send them through my food processor. While it does require some cleanup, it takes literally seconds and I’d much rather use my saved time washing the food processor (aka rinse and place in the dishwasher) than grating the carrots by hand.
For the onion(s) you can slice them in half and proceed to cut them into thin half-moons on a cutting board, or you can use a mandolin. I find that smaller onions have a sweeter flavour so I usually choose 2 small instead of a single larger one.
If you have enjoyed this salad you may also like the following recipes:
- Thai red cabbage slaw with sriracha mayo
- Swedish-style quick pickled red onion
- Roasted flower sprouts with pine nuts
- Raw mushroom carpaccio
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Best coleslaw with quick pickled vegetables
A quick vinegar marinade of the shredded carrots, cabbage and red onion and a simple mayonnaise are the key to a coleslaw recipe that will never disappoint.
- 200 g carrots shredded
- 200 g white cabbage or green cabbage, shredded
- 70 g red onion 1 medium, or 2 small
- 150 ml white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 80 g granulated sugar
- 150 g mayonnaise
- salt and black pepper to taste
For the quick pickle
Combine the shredded carrot, shredded cabbage and thinly sliced red onions in a large bowl.
Pour the sugar and vinegar all over the vegetables then, using your hands, massage the condiment into the vegetables for about a minute.
Rest either in the fridge or at room temperature for 30 minutes, giving it a stir from time to time to redistribute the condiment around.
Make the coleslaw
Squeeze the pickle juice out of the pickled vegetables pressing them between your hands or against a colander. Discard all the pickle juice and dry the bowl with a paper towel. Put vegetables back in.
Add the mayonnaise and stir in homogeneously. Taste test and if desired stir in a sprinkle or salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
This coleslaw keeps up to 5 days refrigerated, in an airtight container.
This recipe is naturally dairy-free. To make vegan use vegan mayo.
Please notice that adding salt may not be necessary if the mayo used is very flavourful. Always taste test before adding any and keep in mind that salt draws moisture from the vegetables. Do not add too much salt to avoid having a watery coleslaw.
Please notice that the nutritional information in this recipe card is made by an online calculator and is meant to be used as a guideline only.