Cole Slaw

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The first time I ever tried to make my own cole slaw it was crisp, balanced, fresh – and wrong.

What was missing? A certain je ne sais quoi: a refreshing, bracing note that was herbal yet earthy. But what could it be?

After some investigation and experimentation, I found out quoi: Celery seed.
Just a half-teaspoon of this tiny, magic seed  transforms a heap of mayo-coated shredded cabbage into something special that pairs with a protein-dense main dish – especially a barbecue, a burger or a roast beef sandwich – for a can’t-get-enough side.

I’ve been tweaking this recipe for years. It’s based on a Tyler Florence recipe I got from a show on the Food Network in the mid-aughts. I’ve changed a good bit of it over time, like eliminating the diced chili pepper and the “several dashes” of hot sauce. ‘Cos really, who wants to burn their mouth on … cole slaw?

One of the nice touches I do credit him with, though, is the Dijon mustard. That has a nice astringency I’ve welcomed into my expectations for the perfect cole slaw.

One of the most important changes I’ve made is shredding the cabbage with the grater (not the slicer) side of the top disk of my food processor, instead of trying to chop it sufficiently thin with a knife. The fine bits will soften to soak up the seasoning more readily – they actually pickle ever so mildly over a day or two, and are more pleasant in the mouth than the uncomfortable shards I forced my guests to tongue wrestle in the early days. The red onion is likewise better shredded than sliced. I’ve also doubled the carrots, and added the red cabbage and sweet red bell pepper.

Additionally, I worked out the amount of salt to use. One of my peeves is recipes that call for “salt” and don’t tell you how much. It’s especially vexing in dishes where you need to add the salt at the outset but you don’t know what the taste will be until the food is ready and cannot easily be adjusted. Not to mention, Ty unfathomably called for the salt to be kosher. In this instance, why? The big flakes don’t melt as readily into the dressing as fine crystals do, so it seems to work at corss-purposes with the recipe. Oh, well.

One key to this recipe is the play of colors: the orange of the carrot, the burgundy of the red onion, the bluish-purple of the red cabbage. You can add a sweet red pepper to augment the kaleidoscope, too. This recipe makes plenty for a potluck or a picnic, and it keeps well in the refrigerator, getting better as days go by.

Cole slaw recipe
Extra notes

I like to use a full recipe of my homemade mayonnaise for this recipe. It doesn’t take long to whip up and it’s more cost-effective than using such a large quantity of store-bought all at once. Plus, you have the added benefit of controlling your ingredients and eliminating yet another processed food from your kitchen.

Homemade cole slaw
The recipe


  • 1 small head cabbage
  • 1/2  small head red cabbage
  • 4 medium carrots
  • 1 largeish red onion
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • Pinch sugar (about 1/16 teaspoon)

Equipment that bears mentioning

Food processor, or grater

In a nutshell

Make all the veggies into little pieces and mix them all together. Mix everything else with the mayo into a creamy dressing. Dress the veggies. Chill a while.

In detail

Using the shredder disk of your food processor, shred the cabbages, the carrots and the onion. If you don’t have a food processor, for heaven’s sake get one. Haunt thrift stores and yard sales if you have to. (Mine was 8 bucks secondhand.) Otherwise, use a good, sharp chef’s knife to cut the cabbage into pieces 1/2  to 1 inch long and as narrow as possible, use a hand grater on the carrots and dice the onion. Dice the bell pepper. Use your hands to thoroughly oss these veggies in a large bowl.

In a smaller (2-cup or so) bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients.  Add this lovely, creamy dressing to the veggies and mix together. A silicon scraper works well for these tasks.

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