Vietnamese Coleslaw

February 21, 2011 at 11:06 pm (A (4 stars, love, favorite), Cruciferous rich, Derek's faves, East and SE Asia, Other, Salads, To test on plan, Tofu, Yearly menu plan) (, )

When I was in Austin visiting my family I spotted a new cookbook on my mom’s shelf:  Vietnamese Fusion Vegetarian Cuisine by Chat Mingkwan.  I’ve always wanted to learn how to make Vietnamese food, so I asked if I could borrow it.  My mom had already flagged the recipe for Vietnamese Coleslaw, and so I decided to start there.

Ingredients for dressing

  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice (I used lime)
  • 2 Tbs. soy sauce (Maybe cut to 5 tsp.? I used regular soy sauce, but the original recipe called for light soy sauce, which is actually saltier than regular)
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 1 Tbs. minced garlic
  • 1 Tbs. minced fresh red chiles (jalapeno, serrano, or hot Thai chiles)

Ingredients for salad

  • 1 pound firm tofu (I used a medium tofu) + oil to bake or fry
  • 2 cups matchstick-sliced green cabbage
  • 2 cups matchstick-sliced red cabbage (I used napa cabbage for both types)
  • 1/2 cup matchstick-sliced carrots
  • 1/2 cup finely sliced (chiffonade) mint
  • 2 Tbs. chiffonaded Vietnamese mint (rau ram)
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 Tbs. chopped roasted peanuts
  • 1 bag (4-6 ounces) vegetables chips of your choice (I skipped this)


  1. To make the dressing, combine all the ingredients in a small bowl, and stir until the sugar is fully dissolved.
  2. To make the salad, slice the tofu into long, thin, julienne strips.  Either pan-fry it in a bit of oil or bake it on an oiled cookie sheet until light brown and crunchy on the outside.
  3. Just before serving, gently toss the tofu, cabbages, carrots, mints, and cilantro in a large bowl.  Add two-thirds of the dressing, and toss to combine well.  Taste and add more dressing if needed.
  4. Transfer to a serving plate, sprinkle with the peanuts, and garnish with vegetable chips.


Update August 2020:

I made this recipe for dinner tonight (with mostly green cabbage plus a little napa cabbage), but I put the chilies and some of the cilantro on the side, so that Alma might eat it. I couldn’t find any rau ram, and I definitely missed the flavor, but the salad was still good even without it. Maybe next time I will add some thai basil if I can’t find rau ram? It needs some other herb.

I served the salad with spring roll wrappers and strips of red bell pepper, thinking that if Alma could turn it into spring rolls she’d be less likely to reject it. At first she flipped out that everything was “mixed” and demanded “normal spring rolls, like usual.” She went and got the raw tofu and cabbage and carrots and everything out of the fridge again to prepare separate ingredients for herself, but Derek and I managed to convince her to just try it first. I said I’d make myself a spring roll and she could try it, and if she didn’t like it I’d help prepare some plain fillings like usual. She took one bite and declared it good, but that she couldn’t taste the carrot. So I cut up some strips of carrots and we put away the rest of the ingredients. She happily ate the salad as spring rolls for dinner. I was surprised, since the salad has (a little) cilantro in it and quite a bit of raw garlic, which Alma usually won’t eat.

I’d like to add this dish to our monthly menu plan, but I feel like the salad alone is a bit skimpy of a dinner. I’d like to serve it with something else starchy and easy, but I’m not sure what. Ideas?

Update December 2012:

I made this recipe for dinner along with pad thai as an appetizer and a thai red curry with winter vegetables.  I used half red cabbage and half napa this time, and I couldn’t find any rau ram so I subbed in Thai basil.  I made the dressing and chopped the veggies way ahead of time, but I only mixed the veggies and herbs with the dressing about one hour before we were going to eat.  Still, in that one hour the cabbage seemed to lose a lot of water and water down the dressing.  The salad tasted a bit blah.  I added quite a bit more lime juice, which helped, but still the texture of the veggies was a bit off.  The whole salad seemed to lose about half its volume.  I doubled the peanuts to four tablespoons, but still I didn’t taste them much.  I missed the rau ram flavor. The Thai basil didn’t add much.  I cut the tofu in thin strips and baked it on an oiled cookie sheet until crisp, but then the tofu sat in the fridge for half a day and ended up a bit hard.  I still liked it but Derek said the texture wasn’t a bit tough.

My original notes from 2/21/2011:

Mingkwan says this serves 6, and indeed it makes a good-sized bowl of coleslaw.  But Derek and I ate it for lunch and managed to finish it all off between the two of us.  Granted, I was quite full afterwards!  I would say this makes 6 small side dishes or 2-3 main dishes.

I used mixed peanuts/cashews, and probably twice as much as called for.  I skipped the vegetable chips though.

When I pan-fried the tofu I didn’t add any seasoning at all — not even salt.  I was worried that the tofu would end up bland, but it soaked up enough of the dressing that it was perfectly tasty.  I used about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to pan-fry my tofu in a 12-inch skillet, but I’m sure I could have used less, since there’s already plenty of fat in this recipe from the tofu and peanuts.

I’d never cooked with rau ram before, and I’m still not sure I know exactly what it tastes like, but there certainly was an unusual herbal note in the salad.  I liked it!

Overall this salad turned out very well.  The flavors were well balanced and I liked the high quantity of herbs and tofu.  The salad tasted very much like something I’d get at a Thai restaurant.  I’ll definitely make it again!  The only issue is that it is a bit too salty.  I’d either use low-sodium soy sauce or cut back on the soy sauce a tad.

Rating: B+

Derek: A-

Nutritional stats for recipe with only Napa cabbage but without the vegetable chips and with 1/2 Tbs. of olive oil to cook the tofu.  41% fat, 31% carbs, 29% protein.

Serving Size: 1/2 recipe
Amount Per Serving
Calories 383
Total Fat 17.9g
Saturated Fat 2.3g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 1121mg
Carbohydrate 30.2g
Dietary Fiber 5.2g
Sugars 16.8g
Protein 28.5g
Vit A 139% Vit C 110%
Calcium  62% Iron 34%

I wanted to use up the rest of my napa cabbage, but I didn’t want to make the exact same recipe. Instead I made this recipe that I found online: Napa Cabbage Salad with Red Bell Pepper, Cilantro, Peanuts, and Dijon-Ginger Dressing. I didn’t have peanut so used cashews instead.  The salad came out fine but was pretty boring.  It’s possible that I put in two much cabbage.  I did use half of a large head of cabbage, but I didn’t check whether it was 5-6 cups.  The dressing seemed to need more salt and I couldn’t really taste the mustard.  The salad was very pretty though.



  1. austingardener said,

    I made the Vietnamese salad recipe last night for dinner. I used the red and green cabbage.
    I left out the hot peppers and the nuts of course. I didn’t have the fancy mint so I only used regular mint. It was very good. Dad said it needed peanut sauce, and then proceeded to eat half of it anyway.

    One question I have is, if you ate it all that is a ton of tofu. One pound divided by 2 is 8 ounces which according to my calculations is 2.25 serving of tofu. I cut the tofu down to half a pound.

    • captious said,

      It is a lot of tofu. But I think it only totals up to about 400 calories per person, which seems reasonable if that’s all you’re having for lunch. Maybe next time I’ll cut the tofu back a little if I’m making it just for two people.

  2. austingardener said,

    I made it again tonight. I put 1/3 serrano pepper in my portion. Owie, zowie. Like it better without the pepper. Also used only green cabbage and not green and red and better with both colors. i use lemon juice and not lime.

  3. austingardener said,

    I bought Rau Ram at My Thahn and added it to the recipe. I liked it, but Max said the combination smell of the Vietnamese mint and the coriander made him nauseous. I had made it before without the Rau Ram and he liked it fine. Wierd, no?

  4. Chinese Cabbage with black pepper and garlic | The captious vegetarian said,

    […] occasionally buy napa cabbage to make this wonderful vietnamese slaw, but then I never know what to do with the leftovers.  I have very few recipes that actually call […]

  5. Breath of True Awakening said,

    At my local vietnamese restaurant they have a very delicious coleslaw that even my girl friend likes to eat, although she avoids raw food otherwise. I was always looking for a receipe and yours looks very close to it, I will try it soon!

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