Cabbage has a nasty reputation for being something that kids despise and is only found in coleslaw. It looks a lot like iceberg lettuce, and therefore can be mistaken for a nutritionless, tasteless, benign vegetable.
Do not be deceived. Napa cabbage is a versatile and tasty green that’s great for filling the void of fresh lettuce and salad mixings during the winter months. When refrigerated, it can keep for a couple weeks, making it an easy winter staple. Heads of it have been popping up at local produce markets and in CSA (community-supported agriculture) boxes for months and curious shoppers may be wondering what to do with all of it.
Though it’s typically used in East Asian cuisine (and sometimes called Chinese cabbage), western chefs have found numerous ways to adapt it into their own style. It’s super low in calories, but full of Vitamin C and A. It’s light, and the cabbage’s mild flavor is semi-sweet, separating it from the typical white and red cabbage. Don’t be turned off by previous experiences with cabbage; napa is different and may uncover a new leaf for even the most non-adventurous cook, or simply for vegetarians looking for some variety in their diet.
Here are a few simple ideas:
— Stir Fry: When fried, the soft green tips caramelize making cabbage a tasty addition to most stir fries. It adds texture and substance to a protein-rich fry like shrimp or tofu, or can help to diversify flavors when combined with green peppers, onions and carrots.
— Soup: Typically during the winter, soups are made with beans, onions, canned tomatoes and hearty veggies like carrots or potatoes. Shredding some cabbage and adding to any of these varieties automatically lightens the soups, and provides more nutrients.
— Napa Cabbage Salad: Shred 2 to 3 cups of cabbage in a bowl, and add a half cup of green onions and 1/4 cup of cilantro. Add 1/4 cup of toasted slivered almonds. For the dressing, combine 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce in a separate cup. Mix in 1 teaspoon of sugar, a dash of pepper, and whisk. Add this to the greens for a fresh, crunchy salad with an Asian twist. (Variations include adding dry Asian noodles for even more texture, so be creative).
— Cabbage Wraps: Think of it as a tortilla and use the entire leaf to wrap just about anything. Dice up 10-12 medium-sized cooked shrimp and combine with 1/2 teaspoon of ginger, 2/3 cup of shittake mushroom, 1/4 cup of green onions, and a teaspoon of garlic. For the dressing, combine 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon of sesame oil, 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar, plus a dash of sugar and hot mustard. Mix it all together, drop it into the wrap, and presto-change-o, it’s a delicious, healthy wrap.
Christine Benedetti is still full from Thanksgiving, and didn’t even eat turkey. She welcomes your vegetarian-related ideas and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org