Mala Cabbage Slaw

A spicy version of an Asian cole slaw.
MaLa Cabbage Slaw

MaLa Cabbage Slaw

by Sue Lau | Palatable Pastime

It was some number of years ago that I was out with my husband Bill and my Mom in west county of St. Louis when we stopped for lunch at a Chinese place on Olive Boulevard. I don’t remember a lot about it except they put out a lovely bowl of cabbage pickle the way some Mexican places might put out chips. We went there several times after that and I came to love it.

And some years later, I posted a version of it online, although I wasn’t 100% satisfied with that recipe as it wasn’t dead-on what I remembered. And this recipe here is not as well, but the texture of the other might be closer (as it is a quick pickle with an almost fermented texture). The  peppering on this one is much closer, although I purposefully just left the salad “unwilted” as I sometimes to for a quick pickle but salting the vegetables and rinsing them off. So this one has a more coleslaw kind of nature with Szechuan flavor.

MaLa is a Szechuan word and you might  be familiar with recipes such as MaLa chicken. It has two parts, from what I understand, the “Ma” referring to the use of Szechuan peppercorns, which has a slight numbing effect on the tongue (don’t worry, it’s not exactly like novocaine! LOL!) and the “La” refers to the spicy heat from red pepper. Together they give a unique flavor which I love.

One of the things I use in this is Szechuan pepper that is pre-ground.  I  do like that. If you only have the peppercorns whole and want to grind those with your mortar and pestle that’s fine. Just make sure you sift if carefully, otherwise it can have a gritty texture you may not want. Just use a sieve on it that you might use to sift powdered sugar. If you don’t have either and want to be brilliant by using five spice powder (because it contains Szechuan peppercorn), be warned that is not the flavor you are looking for, as the anise is going to overturn the apple cart, so to speak. And if you are just looking for Szechuan  peppercorn in general, and can’t find it, I suggest trying online. And no. Black pepper is not a substitute. While Szechuan  peppercorn is called a peppercorn, it is not related to black peppercorns but is a berry that looks like peppercorns and that’s as far as that goes.

The Thai chile on top is just for garnish, but if you like you can thinly slice one of those and use it in lieu of the dried red pepper flakes, although the original of this dish  used whole dried red peppers that ofter they softened sitting in the salad for a bit, tended to shred. Basically you are just looking for heat, so even a fresh jalapeno would not be unpleasant.

This is a good salad to have with something like a banh mi sandwich, although I like it as a side dish with any Asian food. I am also apt to eat it like I would kimchi, either as a little bit of pickle or as a whole bowl if I am feeling a bit happy about it. Either way, I hope you enjoy.

And as the Chinese New Year is fast approaching (it’s the Year of the Monkey!) I hope you enjoy the Asian type recipes I will be having over the next few weeks. We tend to eat it a lot around here, as it is one of our favorite cuisine types.

Enjoy. ~Sue

MaLa Cabbage Slaw

MaLa Cabbage Slaw

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

MaLa Cabbage Slaw
Prep: 15 minutes
Marinate/Refrigerate: 3-4 hours

2 WW  Smartpoints per cup


  • 8 ounces  celery cabbage or napa cabbage,  chopped
  • 1/3  cup sliced radishes
  • 1/3 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/3 cup  sliced scallions
  • 2 ounces raw sugar snap  peas, trimmed and chopped
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons liquid honey
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger root
  • 1/2 teaspoon  red  pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon  salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground Szechuan  peppercorns


  1. Toss cabbage, radishes,  carrots, scallions, and snap peas into a mixing bowl.
  2. Whisk together vinegar, honey, sesame oil, ginger, pepper flakes, salt and Szechaun  pepper; stir into vegetables.
  3. Marinate vegetables 3-4 hours, refrigerated, for best flavor.

From the kitchen of

You might also like:

Chinese Chicken with Black Pepper Sauce

MaLa Baked Tofu Bites

Hot and Sour Noodle Soup

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