creamy buttermilk coleslaw

It seems that creamy coleslaw has fallen out of favor. I think that if you only like vinegar-based coleslaw, then you’re eating the wrong creamy coleslaws. I didn’t like it before this recipe either. It was always too sweet or too watery or too heavy or too mushy. This recipe is none of that.

One key technique in this recipe is salting the cabbage and letting it set for an hour or so before mixing it with the dressing ingredients. The salt sucks water out of the cabbage so there’s less water to leach into the dressing. The cabbage has to be rinsed after being salted, which seems counterintuitive, but it’s easy to dry off the moisture outside of the cabbage shreds – there’s still less water in the cabbage, which is what will keep you from making a watery slaw.

Large shreds of cabbage keep this looking and feeling like a salad while eliminating any worries of mushiness. For those who think that creamy coleslaws tend to be too heavy, look at the ingredient list below – two thirds of the dressing base is low-fat buttermilk, with just a bit of mayonnaise and sour cream added for body and complexity of flavor.

I never liked creamy coleslaw growing up, and I still don’t usually like it at restaurants. But this recipe, with its creamy but not rich dressing, slight sweetness from the carrots and just half teaspoon of sugar, slight bite from the shallot, and overall balance of flavors is worth trying.

Especially if it’s an opportunity to use a fancy schmany monkey vegetable peeler. How cute is this guy? A friend got it for me, because, one could say, I have a bit of a thing for monkeys. (Or at least one.) And even better – it’s sharp. I love it.

Creamy Buttermilk Coleslaw (from Cooks Illustrated July 2002)

Serves 4

CI note: If you are planning to serve the coleslaw immediately, rinse the salted cabbage in a large bowl of ice water, drain it in a colander, pick out any ice cubes, then pat the cabbage dry before dressing.

Bridget note: The recipe says to salt the cabbage for 1-4 hours, but I’ve had better results when I err on the long side of that range.

1 pound cabbage (about ½ medium head), red or green, shredded fine (6 cups)
table salt
1 medium carrot, shredded on box grater
½ cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
½ teaspoon cider vinegar
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1. Toss shredded cabbage and 1 teaspoon salt in colander or large mesh strainer set over medium bowl. Let stand until cabbage wilts, at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours. Rinse cabbage under cold running water. Press, but do not squeeze, to drain; pat dry with paper towels. Place wilted cabbage and carrot in large bowl.

2. Stir buttermilk, mayonnaise, sour cream, shallot, parsley, vinegar, sugar, mustard, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper together in small bowl. Pour dressing over cabbage and toss to combine; refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes. (Coleslaw can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)


  1. I made this recipe a few weekends ago and it came out too salty. I had to make some substitutions based on Blake’s dairy allergy, but I don’t think that was the problem. I rinsed the cabbage for a long time but it obviously wasn’t long enough. Even Jason thought it was too salty and he usually likes a lot of salt.

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  3. i can’t eat chicken or pork barbecue without a side of good coleslaw. i love your recipe! however, i love your veggie peeler more–he’s adorable, in a mutated kind of way. i wouldn’t have even guessed he was a monkey. 🙂

  4. I made this a while back when I was testing out Superbowl recipes via the playoff games. We liked it a lot.

    Love your monkey!

  5. Sara – I’ve made this many times and it’s never been too salty for me. I’m guessing that the substitutions for the dairy caused the problem. Maybe the soy alternatives you (probably) used are saltier than regular buttermilk and sour cream.

  6. i love coleslaw; i just wish my DH liked it too b/c this looks great

  7. sidfaiwu says:

    The monkey peeler! I’ve seen the picture several times before, but it never registered. It’s great when a novelty gift actually is functional as well.

    The slaw looks excellent. Up North, I never even had creamy slaw and didn’t like the dry stuff. Since moving to NC, creamy slaw is the norm in restaurants. I discovered that I like it a lot. Your first picture looks remarkably similar to my favorite at a restaurant a block away. I wonder if they use the same recipe. At least I know where I’ve going to lunch today.

  8. I made this and it is perfect! I had a good recipe that I liked but this is way better. Nice and simple, not laden down with tons of mayo. Great for pulled pork sandwiches! Getting ready to make another batch, thanks for the great recipe : )

  9. Debbie Munro-Knapp says:

    Love the coleslaw!

  10. HolyCow says:

    This is gorgeous dressing I have been looking for. I tried it at the party and I totally loved it. The hostess refused to give her recipe – bitch. Thank you so much for sharing! This one I just made, I can not have enough of it. I am going to eat it every day. It is perfect. The idiot who finds it too salty has never heard of adjusting seasoning or having another go at it with less salt if fancy takes you. One really has to wonder what are those people.


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