With its distinctive curly leaves, Chinese cabbage, also called napa cabbage, brings its mild, celery-like flavor to dishes that you stew, simmer, bake, braise, grill, saute or stir-fry. Unlike European or Western green cabbage, Chinese cabbage grows more mellow with cooking and absorbs the flavor of the liquid you use to cook it — and it’s also less likely to upset your digestion.
Stir-Fry or Saute
When you saute ribbons of Chinese cabbage leaves briefly for about 1 minute over medium heat, the cabbage becomes crisp-tender, loses its raw flavor and makes a base for a salad. Cut the cabbage with a large butcher knife into strips about 1/4-inch thick and use any type of vegetable oil along with a few drops of sesame oil for flavor. Or, use the same stir-fry technique with other vegetables; add a Asian-based sauce, and serve the stir-fry over rice or noodles along with toasted walnuts.
Soups and Stews
Soup provides you with two options for Chinese cabbage; stir in the leaves cut into 1/4-inch strips early in cooking, so the cabbage is meltingly soft after 20 or 30 minutes of gentle simmering, or toss in the ribbons at the end of cooking to give the soup or stew a pleasant crunch. Crunchiness works as a contrast in a soup or stew with silky tofu, slippery noodles or soft mushrooms, while long-cooked cabbage gives sweetness to a chewy barley and beef soup.
Flavorful Side Dishes
Use Chinese cabbage like green cabbage alongside duck, chicken, pork and seafood. Chop the leaves and stems into 2-inch pieces and cook them for about 5 minutes in a skillet along with 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat; add in a dash of salt and pepper, and give the cabbage a splash of acidity in the form of cider, rice or wine vinegar or orange juice just before serving. If you want, let the cabbage get a little char around the edges of the pieces for even more flavor.
Wraps and Rolls
Steaming or blanching whole leaves is best for cabbage wraps. Blanching takes 1 minute once you plunge individual leaves into a large pot of boiling water, while steaming takes about 5 minutes. Use the dried leaves to wrap seasoned, cooked rice and vegetables or tangy chopped, cooked pork seasoned with vinegar. For cabbage rolls, fill the leaves with cooked meat or grains, place them in a pool of tomato sauce or stock and bake them for 30 minutes at 350 degree Fahrenheit. Or, steam the rolls over water for 30 minutes.
References and ResourcesVegetables From Amaranth to Zucchini; Elizabeth Schneider
Mother Earth News: Growing Chinese Cabbage
Fine Cooking: Stir-Fried Napa Cabbage With Garlic, Fresh Chile & Basil
Food & Wine: Grilled Pork With Curried Apricots and Napa Cabbage
The Flavor Bible; Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
My Recipes: Whole Grain and Italian Sausage–Stuffed Cabbage