Spicy Sesame Coleslaw

Feathery green and red cabbages along with carrots, apples, and scallions tossed with a spicy, creamy sesame dressing.

Spicy Sesame Coleslaw

We had a bunch of cabbage come out of the garden this year. I basically made one thing with it, a feathery slaw made from shredded green and red cabbages, apples, carrots, and scallions tossed with a spicy sesame dressing. Hands down, it's my favorite coleslaw recipe. If you’ve ever had asparagus or spinach goma-ae at a Japanese restaurant you’ll recognize the inspiration for the dressing. Toss it all together, and you've got a great slaw on your hands. It's a slaw that is good on its own. This slaw is great on tacos and perfect as a side to soba noodles. I've even thrown a few big scoops in a bowl of short pasta with a few chickpeas and called it lunch. Prep a big bowl and enjoy it for days.
Spicy Sesame Coleslaw in a Pink Bowl

The Key to a Great Coleslaw Recipe

I'm funny about how I like my coleslaw, and it's all about knife skills. I talked about it at length when I posted this Lime & Blistered Peanut Coleslaw years back, and it applies here as well. The cabbage should be chopped thin, whisper thin. I like each bite to be feathery as opposed to coarse or chunky. My feeling that a great coleslaw recipe is created with good knife skills and a short list of easy-to-find ingredients stands all these years later. Equal importance is placed on the ingredients and the cut of the cabbage.
Ingredients for Spicy Sesame Coleslaw Dressing in Kitchen

Does Coleslaw Contain Dairy?

It doesn't have to, but it can. This one doesn't and I love it. In fact, it is probably obvious, but this isn't a take on a classic coleslaw recipe. In those recipes you might see spices and accents like celery seed, Dijon mustard, grated onion or apple cider vinegar. Some slaws use mayo as the creamy base. And then, in many non-mayo slaws you'll see Greek yogurt swapped in. Contrastingly, this recipe I like to uses citrus juice for acidity. The sesame dressing is beautifully creamy without dairy or mayo, and a rainbow of shredded crunchy ingredients makes things beautiful.

Spicy Sesame Coleslaw Dressing

The base of this coleslaw is pretty straightforward - cabbage, scallions, carrots, cilantro, and apple. But the dressing is where things get interesting here. The dressing is creamy sesame deliciousness accented with a jolt of sriracha (or whatever spicy component you like), and a balancing squeeze of fresh lime juice. The dressing coats all the slaw ingredients and brings it together into a creamy coleslaw dressing without mayonnaise. 
Sesame Seeds in a Grinding Bowl
There are a few ways to grind the sesame seeds in this dressing. I tend to use my suribachi, a ridged Japanese grinding bowl. You can also have at it in a traditional mortar and pestle, or a few pulses in a food processor (or blender) will also do the trick. You have options!
Spicy Sesame Dressing in a Jar
Here's how it looks as the dressing comes together, it's creamy, flavor rich, and the perfect consistency to coat your slaw. You can make it as spicy (or not) as you like. Also, pro tip here, I always make double the dressing and use it throughout the week. 
Ingredients for Spicy Sesame Coleslaw in a Bowl Prior to Mixing

Preparing Spicy Sesame Coleslaw Ingredients

Above you can see the slaw ingredients prior to dressing. Aside from slicing the apple, you can prepare all of the ingredients and the (sesame coleslaw dressing) a day or two before serving. I like to give the sliced apple a bath in lemon or lime juice just before tossing to keep them from discoloring. You'll see that in the recipe instructions so heads up on that front. You can get a jump start on the rest of the shredding and chopping ahead of time. 
Marinating Ingredients with Knife on the Side

More Ideas

I wanted to highlight a few of the ways I've enjoyed this coleslaw in previous weeks. I literally put in on, in, or under everything around here and it is a bit out of control. The apples and carrots bring a bit of sweet, perfect to counterbalance with something spicy. You can see tofu marinating up above, I like to take that and cook it quickly in a skillet. Serve the tofu over the coleslaw with a side of soba noodles. A lot of the time I have some tofu marinating, so when I have this coleslaw in the refrigerator, boiling some soba turns this into a tasty ten minute meal - see photo below.
Spicy Sesame Coleslaw in A Bowl with Tofu and Noodles

Coleslaw and Tacos

Here's the other way I like to enjoy the spicy sesame coleslaw on repeat. You see it pictured below. It's a taco situation. That marinated tofu up above? I treat it "fish taco-style" where it is dusted with a bit of cornstarch and then pan-fried until it gets a crispy crust. Here's how the taco is assembled. Apply a thin layer of smashed avocado on a tortilla. Add a layer of well-cooked tempeh bacon (Wayne buys the Lightlife Smoky Tempeh Bacon), and then some of the cooked tofu. Brown the (filled) tortilla on both sides until golden. Immediately fill with lots of coleslaw. I like a little extra green salsa as well. This is my favorite lunch right now! Get the Vegan Fish Tacos recipe.
Spicy Sesame Coleslaw in a Taco in a Bowl
Here's one more view of the taco + coleslaw situation from a slightly different angle so you can really get a sense of what is happening inside. My main advice is don't skip on the coleslaw. I really load it up.
Spicy Sesame Coleslaw in a Taco in a Bowl

Coleslaw Recipe Shortcuts

I'm going to finish with a few shortcut suggestions here. As I mention up above you can do most of the prep for this recipe whenever you have a moment or two. I typically make a double batch of the dressing so it is ready in the refrigerator for me. Then all you need to do is a bit of chopping, grating, or shredding, and you're good to go. I like to hand cut the cabbages here, so it is just to my liking, but beyond that you have options. If you have a grating attachment for your food processor, you can use that for the carrots, apples, and scallions. It definitely makes quick work things. Alternately you can use the large side of a box grater for the carrots and apples. I typically use a knife for everything (to avoid more dishes lol), but go with whatever you like. 

Wrapping things up, this is a fantastic slaw for everyday meals or to take to a bbq. You can see it here as part of this post about feel-good lunch ideas. Homemade coleslaw is a treat but if this isn't your quite what you're after, browse these other salad recipes, or try this Lime & Blistered Peanut Coleslaw, or this wonderful Cucumber Salad, or this Shredded Egg Salad

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Spicy Sesame Coleslaw

4.28 from 68 votes

I like to use toasted sesame seeds for the dressing. If you are toasting your own aim for a medium toastiness - golden but not too dark. And feel free to adjust the spiciness to your liking.

Spicy Sesame Dressing:
  • 1/3 cup toasted sesame seeds, plus more for serving
  • 3 tablespoons tahini
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice or lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons coco aminos or soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha, or to taste
  • 1-2 tablespoons warm water
  • 1/2 large apple, grated or thinly sliced
  • juice of one lemon or lime
  • 3 cups finely shredded green cabbage
  • 1 cup finely shredded red cabbage
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 4 scallions (~1 cup), very thinly sliced with greens
  • 1 small bunch of cilantro, chopped
Make the Spicy Sesame Dressing:
  1. Grind the sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle or by pulsing in a food processor or blender until it is a fine meal. Add the tahini, lime juice, coco aminos or soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and sriracha. Stir until well combined. Stir in the warm water and stir, stir, stir, until creamy and uniform. Taste and add more sriracha of you like.
Assemble the Coleslaw:
  1. Toss the grated apple with the lemon or lime citrus juice and set aside until you're ready to pull the slaw together.

  2. Shred cabbage if you haven't already. Combine the cabbages, carrots, apple, scallions, and cilantro in a large bowl. Drizzle with about half of the spicy sesame dressing. Toss until everything is nicely coated, and then toss a bit more. Decide if you want more dressing and add a bit at a time until it is to your liking.

  3. Serve sprinkled with some extra sesame seeds. Leftover coleslaw will keep covered in the refrigerator for a few days. Simply re-toss and enjoy, reseason with a bit of salt and pepper if needed.


Serves 8.

Prep Time
20 mins
Total Time
20 mins
If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!
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Recipe Rating


I took a chance and used savoy cabbage and it worked out well. The softness and mild taste of the savoy cabbage complimented the rest of the ingredients. As others said, I'll make the dressing to use for other meals also.


Lovely salad. I used Kohlrabi instead of the cabbage and Maple syrup instead of the sugar. I always enjoy your recipes Heidi. Thank you.

Cori Roth

    Thanks for the comment Cori! The kohlrabi swap sounds fantastic. -h

    Heidi Swanson

Hi Heidi, I love this dressing, been using it on salads, grain bowls, but also on crispy tofu and steamed or roasted veggies. Always delicious! I am curious: do you sometimes add other spices to it to change up the flavour profile? How would you go about it? Thanks for a delicious recipe!


Hi Heidi, I love this dressing! I've been using it on salads, grain bowls, but also on tofu and steamed veggies. Always delicious. I am curious: do you ever change it up with spices to give it a different flavour profile? How would you go about that? Thanks!


    Hi Elisabetta - I generally make this one as written, but there could be a number of directions worth exploring with the sesame flavor base. I can imagine the dressing being nice with some curry powder incorporated - I'd leave the sriracha in, but you could do it without if you're going the curry route. I can also imagine that adding za'atar would be really good. Have fun experimenting!

    Heidi Swanson

Best thing ever! Hulled or unhulled sesame seeds?

Sandra Pratt

    Hi Sandra - I tend to use unhulled, but either!

    Heidi Swanson

Does anyone have a good sub for sesame + tahini if cooking for someone who is allergic to sesame? Would almond/ almond butter or sunflower seed/ sun butter be closer? --- My son is allergic to eggs, sesame and nuts (except not allergic to almonds) and we are vegetarians. Everyone thinks the eggs make things hard, but they are no problem to sub. It's the sesame that I miss!


    Hi CBG! I think you could experiment with either of these in this recipe - I might try the almond butter first.

    Heidi Swanson

This dressing is the absolute best I have ever had. The flavor is outrageous. So good, I just wanted to drink it. Made it 3 times in 2 days. Total game changer for my relationship with raw veggies. I ordered the ingredients in bulk so I always have them. So amazing.


    So happy you're enjoying it Anne!

    Heidi Swanson

Great recipe. Full of flavour!


What have you made! It looks heavenly. Happiness on a Plate! I am dropping by your place right now. Will you stop showing off and making me feel jealous.

Persis Maryland

So delicious, served with grilled tofu for lunch. Leftovers kept really well. This one is on the rotation! Thank you for another winner


    Thanks Jeannie!

    Heidi Swanson

I made tacos with the slaw, exactly as you suggested, with Lightlife Smoky Tempeh Bacon, marinated tofu, and avocado. I used 2T ponzu, 2T soy sauce, and 2T sriracha to marinate the tofu slices--so thanks for responding to the person who asked about that! It was more pan-frying than I typically do, but it was so worth it. YUM! I made 6 tacos, thinking we'd each eat 3, but they're filling and we could only eat 2 each. Leftovers for lunch!


This dressing is EVERYTHING! Be sure to toast your sesame seeds as she says, it adds a nuttiness and depth of flavor that really contributes to the umami of the dressing. I added kale to my salad, substituted baby tomatoes for the apple, and topped with crushed roasted peanuts. Thanks so much for sharing Heidi, your recipe nourished both my body and my soul tonight!

Ashley Sayed

    So happy to hear this Ashley!

    Heidi Swanson

This was delicious! My husband commented that it reminded him of Chinese chicken salad. I opted to omit the soy sauce/aminos because he is highly sensitive to sodium. At first, I omitted the additional sugar, thinking there would not be enough "saltiness" to offset it. However, after tasting, I did add a couple teaspoons of maple syrup to balance all the lovely citrus notes. The jolt of heat from the Sriracha was a nice touch. I used a mandoline to get the cabbage, carrot, and apple shreds thin like Heidi recommended. It worked well and made the shredding go very fast. This salad nicely complemented a pot of cranberry beans with a garlicky citrus marinade served with Job's tears. We enjoyed the slaw so much there were only two small portions left for another meal. Luckily, there is enough remaining dressing that we can produce easily another slaw to be enjoyed soon. Thank you for another tasty recipe that we will make again!

Karen A

    So happy you enjoyed it Karen! Love your pairing idea.

    Heidi Swanson

This looks yummy! Heidi, what kind of marinade do you use for the tofu strips that you serve with the coleslaw and soba noodles?

Kimberly Hattaway

    Hi Kimberly - I need to go back to my notebook, but off the top of my head I think it is 2 tablespoons of ponzu, 2 tablespoons coco aminos (or soy sauce), and 2 tablespoons sriracha. Mix well, and marinate for at least 30 minutes, or up to a few days in the refrigerator.

    Heidi Swanson

is there a substitute for mirin

Linda Abrams

    Hi Linda, you can leave it out if you don't have it.

    Heidi Swanson

This all looks like exactly what I want to eat right now! What are you using to marinate the tofu and how long can I leave it marinating? Is that just something you always have going in your fridge? Thanks!


The slaw and tacos and noodles look delish! What did you marine the tofu in? Thanks!


Please write up both the tofu soba noodle and the taco dishes in detail.


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