My mom’s Sweet Onion & Vinegar Coleslaw is fresh, bright, and tangy. No mayo here! A sprinkling of celery seeds adds unique flavor and texture. This easy coleslaw features a homemade dressing recipe that is a staple in our house!
My Favorite Homemade Coleslaw
I love summer. The warmer weather, longer days, and looser family schedule – all elements that lend to the glorious season of backyard gatherings.
A cold drink in hand, with Blake at the grill and kids playing in the yard…it’s my happy, happy summer place.
The people and conversation around our summer table will always be the most important factors, but great eats are also a must. And one of my summertime favorites has always been a shredded cabbage salad with coleslaw dressing.
Mom’s Sweet Onion & Vinegar Coleslaw has been a longtime favorite of mine. It has a vinegar based coleslaw dressing that is made without mayo. It makes a quick and delicious side dish that’s perfect for easy entertaining!
*Here are a few more recipes I’m loving right now: this flavorful Herby Ham Salad, my Grilled Romaine and Tomato Salad with Homemade Buttermilk Ranch Dressing, and Pickled Red Onions (a super popular recipe on this site!)
What is Coleslaw?
Coleslaw comes from the Dutch term koolsla, which translates to ‘cabbage salad’. Or as Merriam-Webster shares, coleslaw is “a salad made of raw sliced or chopped cabbage”.
Because coleslaw is fresh and crunchy, and has a bit of a zingy flavor, it is often served with heavy, fatty, and smoked meats. Many like to top their tacos with fresh coleslaw. Scroll down to ‘Serving Suggestions’ where I share some main entrees that would love a side of coleslaw!
What You’ll Need
The ingredients list for this recipe is short and simple. Just grab the following items:
For the coleslaw dressing
- white vinegar – for a simple, clean acidic zing!
- sugar – I’ve always liked the sweetness of this recipe.
- vegetable oil
- grated white or yellow onion – grated onion means no big chunks, which I love. Add as little or as much as you like!
- celery seeds – they add a wonderful, unique flavor and texture!
- salt & pepper
I don’t use celery seeds very often, but they are a MUST to have on hand for this salad alone. The itty bitty seeds add an extra element of fun. I love their earthy, slightly bitter flavor, plus they add great texture to the salad!
For the salad base
I most often use a couple bags of pre-shredded cabbage or coleslaw mix to make this coleslaw salad. So easy!
How to Make Coleslaw
My mom’s coleslaw dressing recipe is not only incredibly tasty, it’s super easy to put together!
Make the Dressing
- Heat vinegar and sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves.
- Remove saucepan from heat and add oil, onion, and celery seeds; let cool.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Transfer to a 1-quart jar with a tight fitting lid (or similar container) and refrigerate to cool completely.
Assemble the Coleslaw
When you’re ready to make the salad, give the jar of coleslaw dressing a vigorous shake, shake, shake (make sure the lid is on tight!). This emulsifies the liquids, thickens the dressing, and brings it altogether.
Then simply drizzle the dressing over a big bowl of fresh shredded cabbage or pre-shredded cabbage from the store, fold to coat evenly, and the coleslaw salad is done!
Tips for the Best Coleslaw Dressing
Here are a few tips for coleslaw dressing success!
- Be sure to heat the vinegar and sugar until all the sugar has dissolved, so the dressing is smooth and completely incorporated.
- Onions will vary from mild to strong in flavor. So start out with a smaller amount of grated onion. You can always add more!
- Store the finished dressing in a jar with a tight fitting lid, or a similar kind of container. This makes it easy to shake the dressing right before folding it into the cabbage.
- And finally, use only the freshest cabbage you can find to make this salad. It would be a shame to dress the salad with sad cabbage that’s past its prime! I like to use a pre-shredded mix that includes some purple cabbage and shredded carrots, for added color and flavor.
Can I Make The Dressing Ahead of Time?
This vinegar dressing for coleslaw simply begs to be made ahead of time. I always appreciate a make-ahead recipe, especially when it comes to entertaining!
I like to make this dressing at least a few hours, and up to a few days, prior to serving. Just store it in the refrigerator, in a container with a tight fitting lid. This dressing has an excellent refrigerator shelf life, will easily stay good for up to 2 weeks!
About 30 minutes prior to meal time, add the shredded cabbage to a large bowl. Give the jar of dressing a vigorous shake and then drizzle the dressing over the cabbage. Place the prepared salad in the refrigerator to chill until you’re ready to eat. Then fold the salad a few times to incorporate, before placing it on the table.
How to Store
Store any leftover coleslaw salad in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to a few days. Just know that the longer the cabbage sits in the dressing, the softer and less crunchy it will become.
The dressing is sweet and oniony, and bright and tangy with vinegar. With a sprinkling of little celery seeds, this simple dish packs in tons of flavor. It’s great with so many meals!
I like to serve this coleslaw salad without mayo with our favorite Sloppy Joes, and with main entrees that are hot off the backyard grill. It’s pretty awesome with this crispy-skinned Beer Can Chicken and these Easy Grilled Pork Chops. Also think about serving this side dish with my Margarita Grilled Shrimp or slices of crunchy Homemade Garlic Bread. Yum!
It also works especially great with recipes utilizing barbecue sauce and other flavorful sauces or marinades. Imagine the coleslaw salad alongside Grilled Honey Chipotle Chicken Kebabs (shown above), Grilled Sriracha Honey Mustard Beef Kebabs, or Teriyaki Grilled Pork Tenderloin. It would also be a lovely side for my Grilled Turkey Tenderloin with Brown Sugar and Whole Grain Mustard!
While this recipe’s simplicity is one of its best features, I’m always game for switching things up. Here are some ideas for mix-ins:
- bell pepper, any color you like, thinly sliced
- broccoli, chopped small
- apple, chopped small
- green onion, thinly sliced
- parsley, roughly chopped
- cilantro, roughly chopped
- sliced almonds
And if you like, try swapping out the white vinegar for apple cider vinegar, for a little more flavor!
More easy salad recipes:
- Cucumber Salad (made with a tangy vinegar dressing)
- Creamy Cucumber Salad
- Mexican Corn Salad
- Macaroni Salad with Ham & Cheese
- Strawberry Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette
- Italian Chopped Salad
- Creamy Homemade Coleslaw
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Sweet Onion Vinegar Coleslaw Dressing
- In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stir sugar and vinegar until sugar dissolves.
- Remove saucepan from heat and add remaining ingredients, stirring to combine. Let cool.
- Transfer to a 1-quart jar with a lid, or use a similarly sized container. The dressing will appear layered and separated, which is fine. Refrigerate to cool completely.
- To make the coleslaw salad: About 30 minutes prior to meal time, add the shredded cabbage to a large bowl. Give the jar of dressing a vigorous shake to incorporate, until the dressing has a cloudy appearance. Then drizzle dressing over the cabbage. Place the prepared salad in the refrigerator to chill until you’re ready to eat. Then fold the salad a few times to incorporate, before placing it on the table. So easy!
This post was originally published August, 2013. Some of the photos and text were updated in 2018.