I took a trip to Mexico in my early 20s. Although I had little international experience, I thought the food would be familiar. After all, I grew up eating Tex-Mex, which I (wrongly) assumed was the same. I ordered a plate of tacos at a roadside restaurant. When they arrived, I didn't recognize the contents. Three tiny discs of soft corn tortillas replaced the familiar crispy shells I knew. A pile of chopped steak lay in place of seasoned ground beef. Instead of shredded cheese, these tacos contained cabbage tossed with lime. Luckily, I was a Spanish major at school, so I had a chance to ask the server what the cabbage was called. "Repollo," he responded. "It's like Mexican coleslaw."
His wry smile told me he was joking, but it was a thought-provoking proposition. What would it look like to fuse a traditional coleslaw recipe with the unforgettable flavors of Mexican cuisine? It might look something like this Mexican coleslaw recipe, where we combine a classic creamy coleslaw dressing with Mexican-inspired ingredients. Jicama and radishes provide fresh flavor and crunchy texture, while jalapenos bring the spice. Add lively, herbaceous cilantro, and this is the perfect topping for your favorite taco recipe. It's also a fantastic side dish for your favorite Mexican restaurant copycat recipes.
Ingredients for Mexican Coleslaw
- Coleslaw mix: The other ingredients in coleslaw require a lot of prep work, so here we take the easy route and use a store-bought bag of coleslaw mix. If you’d rather shred cabbage at home, swap in 6 cups grated cabbage (red or green, or a combination of the two).
- Jicama: Jicama is a root vegetable that tastes like a cross between an apple and a water chestnut. It adds a crisp, refreshing bite to this coleslaw. The skin is tough, so use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer skin before chopping.
- Radishes: Most radish recipes use common red radishes, but you can use other radish varieties to take advantage of their unique flavor profile. French breakfast radishes are mildly spicy with a peppery bite, while other types (like purple daikon or watermelon radish) have a sweeter character.
- Jalapeno peppers: Reduce the heat level of jalapeno peppers by removing the seeds. You can also cut out the pith (the white membrane surrounding the seeds) if you’re very sensitive to spice. Pepper oils can burn the skin, so wear disposable gloves when cutting hot peppers. Use one of these remedies to provide relief if you get “jalapeno hands.”
- Onion: Choose your favorite type of onion. Sweet onion is a good choice for its mild flavor and touch of sweetness, whereas red onions will add a sharper, more pungent flavor.
- Cilantro: This herb is iconic in Mexican cuisine. It adds a fresh, citrusy flavor to this coleslaw. If you end up with extra, whip up one of these cilantro recipes.
- Dressing: This mayonnaise-based dressing contains cider vinegar, sugar, salt, celery salt and ground pepper. It’s a tangy, creamy mixture that cools down the spicy ingredients.
- Lime wedges: Serve this slaw with lime wedges so everyone can customize their eating experience. They’re great for those who want to perk up the Mexican flavors with some extra acid.
Step 1: Make the coleslaw dressing
In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, salt, celery salt and coarsely ground pepper until smooth.
Step 2: Toss the coleslaw
In a large bowl, combine the coleslaw mix, jicama, radishes, jalapeno peppers, onion and cilantro. Pour the dressing over the coleslaw mix, and toss to coat.
Step 3: Refrigerate
Refrigerate, covered, until serving. Serve with lime wedges on the side.
Editor’s Tip: You can make coleslaw in advance, but the contents will soften over time.
Mexican Coleslaw Variations
- Use lime juice: Replace some (or all) of the vinegar with lime juice. Citrus juice contributes a zesty, refreshing flavor that pairs well with Mexican ingredients.
- Vary the spices: Celery seed is a classic coleslaw ingredient, but you could replace it with other seasonings such as ground cumin, chili powder or taco seasoning.
- Tame the heat: Keep the spice level low, and swap in a green or red bell pepper for the jalapeno.
- Make it more filling: It’s easy to turn this coleslaw into a robust taco salad. Mix in a can of black beans, oven-roasted corn and diced avocado. For added protein, top the coleslaw with grilled chicken, steak or shrimp.
How to Store Mexican Coleslaw
You can store this coleslaw in the refrigerator, covered, for up to three days. If you make the coleslaw ahead of time, be aware that cabbage releases liquid after it's salted or dressed. You may want to drain it just before serving to prevent watery coleslaw.
Mexican Coleslaw Tips
What is Mexican coleslaw made of?
Our Mexican coleslaw recipe contains coleslaw mix, jicama, radish, jalapenos, onion and cilantro. It combines fresh and spicy flavors tossed in a creamy dressing.
What to serve with Mexican coleslaw?
Mexican coleslaw can be served with any grilled meat or vegetable, and it's an ideal topping for burrito bowls or taco recipes. Feel free to use it in other coleslaw mix recipes, especially those that call for cabbage as a topping for burgers or sandwiches.
Does coleslaw contain mayonnaise?
Many coleslaw recipes contain mayonnaise, but it is not required. You could substitute vegan mayonnaise to make a creamy, egg-free coleslaw, or make a vinegar-based coleslaw dressing. Some of our favorites are cilantro lime slaw and sweet and sour coleslaw.