Salads don’t feature in all Asian cuisines –you’d be hard-pressed to find them in the colder areas in China or Northern Asia – but closer to the equator, and closer to Australia, you’ll find all those zesty, crispy, and crunchy salads that embody the freshness of Southeast Asian food. And all the fresh ingredients thrive in the Australian climate. Asian ‘slaw’ recipes were de rigueur in food magazines in the early part of this century. The ingredients themselves are not new to Australia. In the 1970s hundreds of thousands fled Laos as refugees. Many came to Australia and many settled in Tasmania, the southernmost island state. The Hmong people started growing and selling Asian herbs at farmers’ markets in the 1980s. The Chinese market gardens in the Southern Sydney suburb of La Perouse, meanwhile, have been growing Asian vegetables and herbs since around the turn of the twentieth century. These small lots are protected under the heritage act. Compared to earlier versions, this coleslaw is less about comfort food and more about freshness and crispness with a kick of chile, an ingredient you’d never have seen in the mayonnaise-smothered versions.–Ross Dobson

A large and small bowl, each filled with Asian-inspired coleslaw, with a small cup of soy sauce on the side.

Asian-Inspired Coleslaw

5 / 3 votes
Ross Dobson's Asian-inspired coleslaw has all the fresh ingredients that you associate with Southeast Asian food—Napa cabbage, cilantro, chiles, mint, rice vinegar, and sesame oil. A light dressing and crisp ingredients make this coleslaw different from others you've tried in the past.
David Leite
Servings6 servings
Calories164 kcal
Prep Time25 minutes
Total Time25 minutes


For the dressing

  • 4 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons light soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

For the salad

  • 1 pound 5 ounces Chinese (Napa) cabbage*, finely shredded
  • 2 scallions, finely sliced on the bias
  • 1 small bunch fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small bunch fresh mint, coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 oz fresh dill, coarsely chopped
  • 2 large green chiles, such as serrano or jalapeno, finely sliced and seeded, if desired


Make the dressing

  • In a medium bowl, combine the vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in olive and sesame oils.

Make the salad

  • Put the cabbage into a large bowl. Pour half of the dressing over the cabbage and use your hands to toss the cabbage around at the same time as crunching it between your hands. This will soften the cabbage.
  • Stir through the scallions and half each of the cilantro, mint, dill, and green chile.
  • Serve with the remaining herbs and chile scattered over the top and the remaining dressing in a bowl on the side.


*What can I substitute for Napa cabbage? 

If you don’t have Napa cabbage, or just want to use something else, you can substitute an equal amount of bok choy. Napa cabbage is a lighter shade of green but they’re very closely related so it’s a perfect substitute. Regular or baby bok choy is fine—use whichever you prefer. Another alternative is green cabbage. 

Adapted From

Australia: The Cookbook

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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 164 kcalCarbohydrates: 8 gProtein: 3 gFat: 14 gSaturated Fat: 2 gSodium: 733 mgPotassium: 312 mgFiber: 2 gSugar: 4 gVitamin A: 750 IUVitamin C: 33 mgCalcium: 93 mgIron: 1 mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2021 Ross Dobson. Photo © 2021 Alan Benson. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

My husband loves coleslaw, especially those that are more vinegar-based, as opposed to those heavily ladened with mayonnaise. This Asian-inspired coleslaw was an ideal recipe. It’s vibrant in taste and appearance, simple to put together, and versatile in delivery. I was only able to find regular cabbage, but sliced it thin, into 1/4-inch strips. All of the herbs came from our garden, so they were nice and fresh. The mint we grow is pretty potent, so we decreased the amount indicated, which was fine. I had some leftover braised brisket that was practically begging to be served on a sandwich with some slaw – I was happy to oblige and it turned out great!

With the massaging of the cabbage, it softens up quickly, which means it’s probably best eaten within a day or two. Since this recipe makes a nice amount, and is quite versatile, you could add grilled chicken, beef, shrimp, or tofu and turn it into a complete meal.

Chinese Napa cabbage, in my opinion, makes a wonderful coleslaw. It doesn’t have the hardness of the green or red cabbage commonly used yet it’s crunchy and crisp tasting. The scallions, cilantro, mint, and dill add wonderful fresh flavors to this salad. The dressing, although it does contain soy, is light and doesn’t overpower the salad. This Asian-inspired coleslaw would be great with the usual cookout fare, a steak, chicken, or any other dish that could use a crisp, fresh side dish with it. I served it with flaky ribbon pancakes.

This Asian-inspired coleslaw is bursting with flavors that make it a great accompaniment to many dishes. The vinaigrette dressing is light and complements, rather than overpowers, the combination of herbal flavors. It’s a quick dish to pull together and the rewards far outweigh the effort. The slaw could even be prepared ahead and the dressing added when ready to serve. If you added protein, (I think I’d try shredded chicken) this would be a perfect main dish salad. I served this with grilled lemongrass chicken.

A fun spin on coleslaw for your summer gatherings. I’d never used Napa cabbage in a recipe and loved the compact leaves and white and green color mix. The dressing is one you could use over any green salad, you’ll have quite a bit extra from this recipe.

I use a salad dressing bottle mixer to combine the ingredients. Just toss them in and shake, shake, shake. Mixing the dressing with the cabbage with your hands does soften it up a bit, unless you prefer your coleslaw more crunchy—you could skip this step. If you refrigerate the coleslaw for a few hours prior to serving, that would also soften up the cabbage.

This Asian-inspired coleslaw was good but it needed a little acid, a squeeze of lime at the end. The fresh herbs, especially the mint, were a really nice addition. I make Asian coleslaws a lot and this was almost a recipe box keeper, it just needed some acid (lime) in the dressing to help cut through both oils. It improved once we squirted on some lime. It really brought out the freshness of the herbs and the dressing. I paired it with fried rice and an orange chicken in my air fryer.

About David Leite

David Leite has received three James Beard Awards for his writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. I don’t know the “mayonnaise smothered” part, but for many Southerners, a good slaw is cider vinegar based and contains no dairy. That’s what we call slaw and it’s the perfect topping for BBQ pork sandwiches.

    I think I’ll top my next smoked pork with some of this Asian inspired slaw.