This quick and easy Mexican coleslaw adds so much freshness, brightness, and crunch to any dish. It’s perfect as a taco topping or as a simple side dish.
It takes about 15 minutes to make the slaw, and you only need a few basic ingredients. The key is to use fresh ingredients to maximum brightness and crunch.
You’ll love what a great complement it is to tacos, burritos, quesadillas, steak rice bowls…and so much more!
If you’re looking for the perfect Mexican side dish, you have to try this Mexican coleslaw! It’s a no-cook side dish that takes 15 minutes or less to make. Plus, many of the ingredients can be prepared ahead to make it even easier.
I love it because it is crunchy, bright, and fresh. The acidity from the lime dressing balances out bold flavors and adds amazing texture with its crunchiness.
Let me show you how to make this incredibly easy and refreshing Mexican coleslaw!
Why I Love This Recipe
- Great texture: This slaw is perfectly crunchy thanks to the fresh cabbage and pepitas.
- Bright and fresh: The lime dressing is bright and “wakes up” the entire Mexican slaw.
- Great flavor balance: A Mexican-inspired flavor profile here with the cilantro, cumin, and lime juice. It also has a touch of saltiness with the salted pepitas (pumpkin seeds).
- Great taco topping! Adds crunchiness, freshness, and brightness to any taco out there!
The Key to Making Bright Salads
There’s an art to making bright and refreshing salads, and it all starts with the ingredients you choose for the perfect texture and flavor profile. In general, you’ll want the following:
- Freshness: Almost every ingredient, from the actual salad to the dressing, should be freshly prepped.
- Crunch: Soggy salads are a big no. Choose ingredients that hold their shape and have crunch. For this Mexican slaw, I use freshly sliced green cabbage and pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds).
- Flavor: Be creative here! As long as there are other fresh, crunchy elements, you can play with any other flavorful ingredients. In this Mexican slaw, I use cumin and cilantro as flavor boosters.
- Brightness and acidity: A simple citrus-based dressing is perfect to add brightness and freshness.
Only a few simple ingredients are needed to make the slaw! You may already have most of these ingredients at home.
The key here is to use as many fresh ingredients as you can. I use fresh cabbage, cilantro, and lime. All the flavors come together to make the best Mexican-inspired slaw!
- Green cabbage: It should be thinly sliced. Make sure you use fresh cabbage and pick one with tight leaves that feels heavy.
- Cilantro: Chopped fresh cilantro adds flavor and freshness.
- Salted pepitas: I use salted roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds without shells) to add crunch and saltiness to the Mexican coleslaw.
- Juice of 1 lime: Use a fresh lime for best results in terms of flavor, freshness, and brightness.
- Olive oil: To give body to the lime dressing. Use good quality extra virgin olive oil, if possible.
- Ground cumin: For the dressing. Cumin can be a bit strong, so add it to taste if you prefer.
- Salt and pepper to taste
What are pepitas? Pepitas are basically pumpkin seeds with the shells removed. “Pepitas” is a Spanish word that means “little seeds,” in reference to the seeds from pumpkins. In Mexican cuisine, pepitas are used for a variety of sauces and garnish to add flavor and crunch.
How to pick a good green cabbage: Look for cabbage with compact leaves that don’t look wilted (a few exterior loose leaves are fine). The leaves should feel crisp and crunchy. It should also feel heavy for its size.
How to Make It
This Mexican coleslaw is such a simple, easy, and quick recipe. It takes less than 15 minutes to make.
Here’s basically how it goes:
- Prep the cabbage: Remove and discard the loose outer leaves from the cabbage. Then, cut it in half from top to bottom, through the large stem. Lay the cabbage flat and thinly slice it. If desired, you can remove the thick stem that runs in the middle.
- Make the simple lime dressing: In a mason jar, combine the lime juice, olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper. Shake vigorously until emulsified (fully combined).
- Toss and combine: Toss the sliced cabbage, along with the chopped cilantro, pumpkin seeds, and the lime dressing. Season with more salt and pepper as needed.
And that’s it! Super easy and quick. Now, you can use this delicious and crunchy Mexican coleslaw on tacos, burritos, burrito bowls, rice…anything!
Tips to quickly slice cabbage: I simply use a sharp knife to slice the cabbage. A quicker method is using a food processor with the adjustable slicer blades. You can also use a mandolin.
You don’t need too many tools to make the slaw, just a few things that you may already have in your kitchen.
- Sharp knife: to prep and slice the cabbage and chop the cilantro.
- Lime juicer: To make it much easier to juice the lime.
- Mason jar: To make the dressing.
- Large mixing bowl: To thoroughly dress all the cabbage with the dressing, use a large bowl. This way, the cabbage slices will have plenty of room to loosen up and get thoroughly coated with the delicious lime dressing.
Prep Ahead Tips
The cabbage can be sliced the day 1-2 days before and stored in a container or resealable plastic bag for freshness. If pre-washing, make sure to dry it thoroughly first. Otherwise, the cabbage will soak up moisture and get soggy in the fridge.
The lime dressing can be made ahead and refrigerated. I’d say 1-2 days in advance.
As for the cilantro, I’d recommend prepping it right before using. It doesn’t store well once it’s been chopped.
Substitutions and Variations
Here are a few ideas for substitutions:
- Cabbage: You can use red cabbage, or a mix of green and red cabbage. I would recommend NOT to use bagged pre-chopped or pre-sliced cabbage. Those tend to be a bit soggy since they’ve been sitting in the bag for days.
- Lime: If you don’t have lime, you can use lemon too.
- Cilantro: Cilantro is a staple in Mexican cuisine. Some people like to substitute it with parsley, but it’s not the same thing.
- Spices: Cumin is used in Mexican cuisine, and it adds to the flavor. You can also add some chili powder to it!
Add-ons: Try adding thinly sliced red onions, radishes, or jalapeño.
Pairing and Serving Ideas
This Mexican coleslaw pairs really really well with almost anything! It adds so much crunch, freshness, and brightness that lifts up the entire dish.
Here are some of my favorite tacos to serve this crunchy slaw:
Look for cabbage with compact leaves that don’t look wilted, although a few loose leaves, especially on the outside, are fine. The leaves should feel crisp and crunchy. It should also feel heavy for its size.
I’d recommend using freshly squeezed lime juice, but if you have a brand of bottled lime juice that you really like, you can use that.
Yes, 1-2 days ahead is fine.
Yes, 1-2 days ahead is fine.
If it looks fresh and crunchy, you can. Most bagged sliced slaw or cabbage are not fresh or soggy though.
You can use roasted sunflower seeds.
I’d recommend making it the same day so that the cabbage stays crunchy. If you make it the day before, it will get soggy overnight.
I love this Mexican coleslaw on EVERYTHING! Tacos, burritos, burrito bowls, rice, quesadillas…and the list goes on.
It’s the perfect topping to elevate any Mexican-inspired dish. It adds crunch, freshness, brightness, and flavor to anything.
I also like how quick and easy it is to make. Plus, many of the slaw components can be prepped in advance to make it even easier. I hope you like it as much as I do!
Tips for Success
- Pick a good green cabbage. Aside from the outer leaves, the leaves should be compact and green. It should also feel heavy for its size.
- Try not to use bagged pre-sliced cabbage. Those are usually soggy.
- How to slice cabbage: Remove and discard the loose outer leaves from the cabbage. Then, cut it in half from top to bottom, through the large stem. Lay the cabbage flat and thinly slice it using a sharp knife. If desired, you can remove the thick stem that runs in the middle.
Easy Mexican Coleslaw
- Juice of 1 medium lime - or to taste
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin - or to taste
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 5 to 6 cups thinly sliced green cabbage - (see notes)
- ½ cup chopped cilantro
- ¼ cup salted roasted pumpkin seeds - (also known as pepitas)
- Make the lime dressing: In a mason jar, combine the lime juice, olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Shake vigorously until well mixed.
- In a large bowl, toss the cabbage, cilantro, and pumpkin seeds along with the lime dressing to taste until evenly combined. If needed, season with more salt and pepper to taste. Serve as a side dish or toppings with tacos, burritos, rice, etc. Up to you!
- Pick a cabbage that feels heavy for its size. Also make sure the leaves are green and compact. It’s okay if the outer leaves are dull and tough since you’ll discard those anyway.
- How to slice cabbage: Remove and discard the loose outer leaves from the cabbage. Then, cut it in half from top to bottom, through the large stem. Lay the cabbage flat and thinly slice it. If desired, you can remove the thick stem that runs in the middle.
- Other ways to slice cabbage faster: You can use a food processor with the adjustable slicer blade. You can also use a mandoline.
- Prep-ahead: the cabbage can be sliced 1-2 day in advance and stored in a container or resealable bag in the fridge. The dressing can be made ahead and refrigerated for 1-2 days.
- Disclaimer: Nutritional values are approximates.