Cooking from the Farms: Napa Cabbage

Posted on July 16, 2010

The Napa cabbage from Heron Pond Farm was hefty and abundantly leafy, generous enough in size to lend itself to a couple of meals.

Often Napa is the cabbage of choice for the Korean condiment, kim chee.  For kim chee, the cabbage is fermented for several days together with lots of hot pepper, making a sort of incendiary sauerkraut.  When ready to serve, kim chee shows up on dinner tables as a condiment to enhance the main dishes.

I didn’t make kim chee.  I’m not up to waiting several days to offer you a write up and a recipe, nor am I sure my tastebuds are up to the kim chee’s intense heat.  What I decided instead was to allow the Napa cabbage to show off a little, boast what I consider its best feature: its duality.  Napa is really two distinct vegetables in one, a combination of rich leaves and crunchy ribs.

Still, the Napa is an Asian cabbage so it seems natural to cook it using Asian flavors: nam pla or soy sauce, ginger or cilantro, garlic or chilis.  For two dinners this week I followed the vegetable’s natural inclination to pair with these flavors, reaching one night for the Chinese ingredients in my cupboard and turning the dark green upper leaves into a stir fry.

The next night the meal was more evocative of Thai cuisine.  I served a perfectly and simply cooked piece of salmon over a slaw made with the chiffonaded crisp ribs mixed together with shredded carrots, chopped cilantro, and a minced chili.  The slaw was then tossed with a light dressing of lime juice, nam pla, and a little brown sugar.

Both meals earned raves, and your families and friends may like them too.

It’s worth noting that members of the supporting cast of vegetables for both meals – fresh garlic, green beans, and carrots – came from this week’s Heron Pond Farm CSA share as well.  All gorgeous.

I felt very lucky this week.

Chicken and Napa Cabbage Stir Fry

Working quickly is the hallmark of a stir fry.  If you make this right before serving you’ll be rewarded with still-crisp vegetables.  The ginger lends a mellow sweet heat to the finished dish.  My son remedied the lack of spicy heat by adding large amounts of sriracha sauce and chili oil.  Not a recommended combination for the timid.  We served this with rice.

  • 3 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • ¾ cup plus 1 Tbsp. low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable or peanut oil
  • 1 pound chicken breast, sliced
  • 1 small or ½ medium yellow onion, cut into slivers
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1–inch by 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
  • the top half of a head of Napa cabbage, dark green leafy part cut into ribbons
  • ¼ pound green beans, tailed

Combine the soy sauce, broth and cornstarch together in a small bowl or glass measuring cup.  Set aside.

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet.  Add chicken pieces and cook, stirring, until you see no more pink.  Remove the meat to a bowl and set aside for returning to the stir fry later.

To the same skillet, add the onion and cook until the slivers begin to soften, stirring occasionally.  Add the ginger and the garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic softens but does not burn.

Return the chicken to the pan and stir together with the aromatics to combine.  Add in the green beans and the ribbons of Napa cabbage leaves.

Toss together in the pan until the leaves begin to wilt down.

Give the soy sauce mixture a quick stir and pour it over the stir fry in the pan.  Reduce the heat to medium and let the sauce come up to a simmer.  Cook for a few minutes as the sauce thickens and the chicken finishes cooking through.

Serve immediately, with rice if you wish.

Napa Cabbage Slaw

Although we ate salmon with the slaw, anything from pork tenderloin to ribs to chicken would taste great with it.  It is a cool and easy side dish for a hot day and, although simple to throw together, full of interesting flavors.  You may prep the ingredients ahead of time and keep the vegetables chilled in the fridge, but resist dressing the slaw until right before serving.  The greens will wilt if dressed too far ahead of dinner time, and you’ll lose that lovely crisp texture of the Napa cabbage.

  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
  • the juice of one lime
  • 1-2 Tbsp. nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • the bottom half of a head of Napa cabbage, the light colored leaf and rib root end, chiffonaded by hand
  • 2 small carrots, washed and shredded
  • a fistful of cilantro leaves, washed well and chopped
  • 1 chili (I used jalapeno but anything mild to moderately hot will do), seeded and minced

Mix the first four ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

Cut the cabbage into thin shreds by hand, shred the carrots, and place both in a large mixing bowl.

Mince the chili, and chop the cilantro.

Add these to the cabbage in the bowl and toss to combine.

Pour the dressing over the slaw, toss well, and serve.

©2010  Jane Ward