A Healthier, Updated Coleslaw: Red Cabbage, Fennel, and Carrot Salad with Coconut-Lime Dressing

December 1, 2012

This salad made a brief appearance in my recent (brief) post on my family’s Thanksgiving dinner. In addition to bringing our usual chipotle mashed sweet potatoes (made from a fabulous recipe in Cooking Light magazine (we use buttermilk instead of half and half)), I offered to bring a Vietnamese salad after seeing a recipe in a magazine. Of course I planned to make it ahead of time to make sure it would turn out well. The recipe called for red cabbage, fennel and carrots with rice vinegar, fish sauce, garlic, mint, sugar, and chopped cashews. Unfortunately I only had American grocery store fish sauce, and even after adding more vinegar the result just didn’t have a lot of flavor. (A side note on the fish sauce – a friend of mine told me that there is definitely a spectrum of fish sauces in terms of quality – the cheap stuff is good for cooking, and the more expensive would be what you’d want for this type of thing).

After a little more thought on the subject, I started to worry about how fish sauce would work with the rest of the menu, and I wasn’t sure I could get the right flavor without a couple more tries. So I decided to go with Plan B, and use a version of a coconut vinaigrette I’ve made before for green salads. I decided I really wanted to play up the coconut and lime flavors so that I had a nice contrast to the main dishes in a Thanksgiving meal. To achieve this I ended up using a combination of reduced-fat shredded coconut, coconut white balsamic vinegar, and some coconut extract to boost the coconut flavor, as well as using freshly squeezed limes to make sure I had a fresh, bright lime flavor. I used olive oil, since that’s what I normally use for salad dressings, but I think you could probably use coconut oil and leave out some of the extra coconut ingredients. Since this is kind of a coleslaw type dish I think the ‘solid at room temperature (or colder)’ property of coconut oil wouldn’t be a problem).

The salad went over quite well at Thanksgiving since it was such a contrast to the other dishes. I may offer to bring it every year from now on (and since it’s not particularly seasonal, it would work any time of the year). Since I only used 4 tablespoons of oil, and the coconut is reduced fat, the dressing really isn’t too high in calories or fat. (The recipe below makes about 16 tablespoons, so there’s only about 4 grams of fat in one tablespoon. And it’s flavorful enough that a ratio of about one tablespoon of dressing per cup of vegetables is enough).

One final note on fennel – it seems to be confused with anise quite often, but they are indeed different vegetables. I think either would work fine for this recipe. The fennel is slightly mild, so anise may actually be even better (but I haven’t tried it at this time).

Red Cabbage, Fennel, and Carrot Salad Ingredients

Red Cabbage, Fennel, and Carrot Salad Ingredients

Red Cabbage, Fennel, and Carrot Salad with Coconut-Lime Dressing
makes 8-10 cups

1/2 small red cabbage
1 large fennel bulb
2 large carrots

Coconut-Lime Dressing
makes about 16 Tbsp (use about 8 Tbsp for the salad – you can halve it if you like)

2 Tbsp stoneground or Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp honey or agave
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
4 Tbsp coconut balsamic vinegar*
3-5 Tbsp reduced-fat shredded coconut**
4 Tbsp olive oil (or try coconut oil and reduce the other coconut elements)
1/2 to 1 tsp coconut extract
1/2 to 1 tsp salt

* If you don’t have coconut balsamic vineger, just use white balsamic vinegar and add extra coconut
* If you don’t have reduced-fat shredded coconut, just use regular

For the salad:

Cut the carrots into matchsticks about 1+1/2 to 2 inches long. Thinly slice the red cabbage, and cut again as necessary so that the pieces are no longer than 2 to 3 inches. Cut off the bottom of the fennel bulb and the very ends of the stems. Thinly slice the fennel bulb and cut again so the pieces are no longer than 2 to 3 inches. Thinly slice the stems and fronds. Combine all vegetables in a large bowl.

For the dressing:

Mix the mustard, honey and lime juice and combine until the honey and mustard are fairly dissolved (I suggest doing this step first so that you don’t end up with a food processor bowl coated with unmixed in honey in the bottom). Combine with all other ingredients in a food processor or blender and mix until the coconut is pulverized into the dressing, and the dressing is emulsified (the oil is completely mixed in with the rest of the ingredients). Taste and adjust as desired.

Add about 5 Tbsp of the dressing to the vegetables and toss well. Taste it and add as much additional dressing as you’d like. I ended up using 8 Tbsp. Store the remaining dressing in the fridge and use it within the next week or two.

Red Cabbage, Fennel, and Carrot Salad with Coconut Lime Dressing

Red Cabbage, Fennel, and Carrot Salad with Coconut Lime Dressing

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2 Responses to “A Healthier, Updated Coleslaw: Red Cabbage, Fennel, and Carrot Salad with Coconut-Lime Dressing”


  1. Should the coconut be unsweetened? Or sweetened?
    This sounds delicious!


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