"Lost Recipes" Classic Coleslaw with Boiled Dressing ♥

Classic Coleslaw with Boiled Dressing
An old-fashioned recipe for coleslaw, just cabbage in a "boiled" dressing.

~recipe & photo updated 2010~

2005 Original: The men and kids at the table loved the taste of this basic salad dressing recipe. "It tastes like real coleslaw," repeated one after the other. For the record, I loved its crunch but was so-so on the taste, wanting more zip.

The recipe comes from Lost Recipes: Meals to Share with Friends and Family by Marion Cunningham, reviewed and adapted by Amanda Hesser in the New York Times Magazine in early July. And I have some real gripes with the recipe.

It calls for soaking the halved cabbage in cold water for an hour in the fridge before mixing in the dressing. Why? Perhaps to crisp up the cabbage? Is it a necessary step with a fresh head straight from the garden? I did follow it but even then couldn't figure out if it made a difference. When unusual techniques are called for, "why" is an important question to answer. UPDATE: Want to know why? Read Dear Anonymous: THIS Is Why We Blog, where the answer is provided by a woman and her 98-year old blog-loving grandmother!
As written, the dressing steps will yield a lumpy dressing. As an experienced cook, I knew to do otherwise but still, bad instructions are a no-no for cookbook writers and editors and yes, New York Times testers.
It's also a coleslaw that improves while resting for 24 hours. This isn't mentioned.

So yes, it's just one recipe, perhaps not representative of the cookbook as a whole. But I suspect that the Lost Recipes cookbook wouldn't be a great selection for new cooks.

2010 Update: Turns out that for me, this recipe is one of the most memorable recipes on this entire site, thanks to the comment from the 98-year old Canadian who answered the question about why old-fashioned coleslaw recipes suggest soaking the cabbage first. But when I remade the coleslaw in 2010, I wanted to give it a little more zip and those changes are reflected in the recipe now. The result? The men and kids AND the cook (that would be me, Alanna) all loved this classic coleslaw.


Hands-on time: 20 minutes
Time to table: 90 minutes if needed but improves by resting 24 hours
Makes 8 cups

1 small to medium head green cabbage, outer leaves removed, sliced in half through the core
1 red pepper, chopped fine (my 2010 addition, for a little more color)
8 red radishes, grated (my 2010 addition, for a little more 'zip')

1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons flour, fluffed with a fork to aerate before measuring
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
A generous pinch of cayenne pepper (up from a pinch)

2 egg yolks
3/4 cup milk (skim milk works fine)
1/4 cup cider vinegar or white vinegar
Generous kosher salt
1 teaspoon celery seed (or more to taste)

CABBAGE Optional: soak the cabbage halves in cold water in the fridge for an hour. Chop the cabbage into fine pieces, aim for about 8 cups of chopped cabbage.

BOILED DRESSING In a large saucepan (see TIPS), melt the butter over MEDIUM. Stir in the flour, sugar, mustard and cayenne, stirring quickly to combine after each addition. Whisk together the yolks and milk in a small bowl, add the vinegar. (It will appear to curdle.) A tablespoon at a time, stir the egg-milk-vinegar mixture into the flour mixture, fully incorporating each new addition before adding more. Stir until the mixture thickens slightly and when drawing a finger across the back of a spoon, the finger's path remains clear. Season with salt and celery seed.

COMBINE Stir in the chopped cabbage, red pepper and onion. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

2010: If you use a large pot for cooking the sauce, there's enough room to stir in the cabbage, bell pepper and onion.
2010: The day it's made, stir the salad really well, turning it again and again for the dressing to get thoroughly distributed. Even so, it will "seem" like there's not enough dressing, in fact, I even wondered about next time using only 6 cups of cabbage. But by Day Two, especially if the salad has been stirred a couple of times in the iterim, the salad will be plenty moist, the liquid will have moistened the cabbage, there will be plenty of sauce (though it won't be watery like so many store-bought coleslaws). Have faith!

~ Cowboy Coleslaw ~
~ Autumn Slaw with Apples & Bacon ~
~ Kohlrabi & Apple Slaw with Creamy Coleslaw Dressing ~
~ more coleslaw recipes ~
~ more Weight Watchers recipes ~
~ more low-carb recipes ~
from A Veggie Venture

~ Holy Slaw! ~
~ Alice Waters' Coleslaw ~
~ more salad recipes ~
from Kitchen Parade

© Copyright Kitchen Parade 2006

Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. Interesting. I haven't heard of this type of dressing for coleslaw. It looks good in the picture.

  2. I hadn't heard of the boiled dressing but we have a simple one like this at our house too. I also prefer something a little more complex but my husband goes nuts when he gets the basic mayo coleslaw his grandmother made. And that's okay, half of eating is emotional satisfaction anyway, so if it makes him happy, then the recipe stays in the box, you know?

  3. I remember this from a cookbook that my grandmother used. Thenname "boiled dressing" always stuck in my mindnas unusual. I love colslaw so I like htis kind, but like you, I prefer to have it a little zippier..

  4. My grandmother who is 98 yrs old and still makes a small breakfast for herself now and then is an avid reader of the food blogs, when she came across yours and the coleslaw recipe she marveled at the fact that some of your readers had never heard of boiled dressing.That is what we had when young and still have at my house. Nan also says the reason they soaked the cabbage in cold water was to "clean it of any critters that might have set up housekeeping in there",at least that was her reason 'cause she did the same thing. We both enjoy your blog and the care you take with your recipes & comments. Thank you!


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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe, whether a current recipe or a long-ago favorite. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. ~ Alanna