It’s winter, so it’s the perfect time to take advantage of those vegetables that are in their prime right now. One way is to rely on my CSA box to fill my kitchen with what’s in season. Or I channel my inner Julia Child at the farmer’s market to find the “it” veggie right now. And, if you are like me and almost done with hard squashes, winter greens, and celery root, look no further and give Napa cabbage a chance. You might think that it is just like any other cabbage, but the Napa variety is different and there are many ways to integrate this vegetable in your winter menu with a few great-tasting recipes that bring me back all the way to my mom’s kitchen. What could be better. Come and cook with us!
Maybe one of the reasons this type of cabbage is so close to my heart, is because it comes from the Northwestern region of Italy, dating back to the 18th century. That is also why the French call it “Chou de Milan”, or cabbage from Milan or, in English, it is also known as Savoy Cabbage. At least that is what I always thought. To my surprise, I learned that in the U.S., Napa cabbage is also referred to “Chinese cabbage” and originated near the Beijing region of China. Who knows! Wherever it comes from, it continues to be a great addition to my kitchen as it is packed with vitamin A, iron, calcium and magnesium. Furthermore, it releases vitamin C which our body uses to strengthen its immune system, frankly something we can probably all use more of during the winter.
Napa cabbage is available year-round but it is really considered a winter vegetable as this is the time when it is most durable. Unlike other cabbages that can be stored for longer, winter Napa cabbage will start to wilt after about a week in the fridge. This is due to its loose structure and more delicate leaves, at least when compared to other types of cabbages. When buying the Napa variety, look for crunchy, light green leaves that do not have dark green spots but still show a soft and fresh stalk.
The easiest way to use Napa cabbage, apart from making quick kimchi or mixing it into our winter vegetable soups, is to blanche the leaves for 3-4 minutes in salty water and then sauté them in a little butter to obtain those tasty browning reactions that lend a dish so much flavor. Adjust seasoning and serve hot. Another slightly more elaborated way to enjoy Napa cabbage is to make a layered cabbage, prosciutto and cheese dish that starts with a layer of toasted bread at the bottom of an oven-proof baking dish, followed by alternating layers of blanched Napa cabbage, sautéed prosciutto (bacon or speck) and tasty cheese (fontina is the classic choice here) and ending with layer of toasted bread sprinkled with a little more cheese. Barely cover the lot with beef broth and cook in the oven at 350º F for about 45 minutes. It is divine, trust me.
But the one dish that will almost always come to mind when I see this type of cabbage is my mom’s Napa cabbage rolls with lamb, two flavors that complement each other perfectly. Check out the recipe and let me know what you think. It sure isn’t a quick fix, but sometimes we need to try something new to give Napa cabbage a chance! Come and cook with us!