Coleslaw in Ambergris Caye

Mom's Cole Slaw

I have mentioned that Belize is my second home. I live there nearly three months out of every year and I have collected many stories about this part of the world – nearly all of them involving travel, food, friends and family.  And I know in my heart that this collection of memories will only grow and expand with time.

If I had to describe my life in Belize, the first word that comes to mind is “unplugged.”  There is no daily newspaper delivery so we often lose track of world events. We receive little mail aside from a few monthly bills.   We do have wireless internet so I can try to stay in touch with my family – yet I spend very little time on the computer each day and when there’s no connection available (which happens quite frequently), I don’t scurry off to a wireless café in search of WiFi. I merely close my laptop and head back out into the sunshine.

Preferred mode of transportation

To get to “town,” we walk or bike or use our trusty golf cart. The stores carry very basic ingredients, and when items are imported they are often two to three times as expensive as in the United States. These prohibitively excessive prices coupled with my natural curiosity about local cuisine makes it easy to try out the foreign food that crowds the market: large orange fleshed papaya, various beans, plantain or casava chips, freshly squeezed juices, fresh corn tortillas and habanero peppers, “ugly” carrots (knotty and obviously organic) to name a few.

Learning that I can easily incorporate these local ingredients into the many dishes I prepare confirms my core belief about cooking. Namely, you don’t need fancy salts or truffle oil to produce great meals.  That said, I have learned to bring along a few staples without which I would be lost. Bags of homemade granola, whole grains and my beloved Cafe Lladro coffee often take up a bit of  my packing space.  I am, admittedly, a snob when it comes to my caffeine.

Without fail, I make a huge batch of coleslaw within the first day of arriving at our house.  I learned this recipe from my mother and it’s an old standard by now. It is the most basic of the twenty or so coleslaw recipes that I make. Thankfully, the ingredients are available at every single fruit stand and grocery store on the island of Ambergris Caye, Belize. I would imagine that they are even available everywhere else in the world!

Many who visit us and eat this salad ask for this recipe, which is a little embarrassing given that it is so simple.   The result tastes much better than it sounds and here in Belize we eat this salad morning, noon and night.  I greatly prefer this slaw to more traditional Belizean recipes which often incorporate lots of mayonnaise and few if any additional vegetables to the cabbage.

Mom’s Coleslaw

Serves 10-12

  • 1 medium head of cabbage (you can use half purple and half green if desired or all purple) -washed and cut into 1/8’s, then sliced into 1/4 inch strips
  • 1 red pepper, cored and seeded then sliced into 1/4 inch strips
  • 1 yellow pepper, cored and seeded then sliced into 1/4 inch strips
  • 7 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced ¼ inch pieces
  • 3 medium cucumbers, peeled and cut lengthwise.  Remove seeds and slice the half rounds into ¼ inch half moons (In the US I use English cucumbers which do not need to be peeled.)
Dressing Ingredients
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • 4 tsp table salt
  • ½ cup olive oil or canola oil (the olive oil was my addition to mom’s recipe)
  • ⅓ cup sugar (I use turbanado sugar in Belize;  in the states you can substitute granulated sugar)


Place all cut up vegetables into a large bowl.

Whisk all ingredients for the dressing together and pour over the vegetables.  Mix together and marinate in a covered container in the refrigerator; stir every few hours.  Add more sugar or salt to taste.  This stays crisp and fresh for at least 3-4 days.  Drain before serving.

Variation:  For Thanksgiving or for a hearty winter salad, replace the carrots, cucumbers and peppers with ½ cup of sliced red onion and 2 cups dried cranberries or dried unsweetened cherries. If you’re not a fan of cabbage, you can even make this slaw with just cucumbers, peppers and carrots and throw in some thinly sliced celery.  Sometimes I add cilantro to give it a different flavor!

I love to serve this slaw with my beloved Belizean Chicken (recipe to be posted once the warm weather starts to disappear).

Check out Wanderfood Wednesday for more great recipes!

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