Napa cabbage has been loved as the winter vegetable in Japan. Especially, it is the essential ingredient for Japanese hot pot (Nabe) dishes.
I don’t know how popular Napa cabbage is in your country, but are you interested in its health benefits?
In Shojin cuisine, it is called “Yo(u)jo(u) Sanpou”(養生三宝)- The three treasures for living healthy along with tofu and Daikon radish.
*Syojin cuisine…is the traditional diet style of Buddhist monks in Japan and especially grew widespread with Zen Buddhism in the 13th century.
Today, I am going to introduce all about napa cabbage, and of course, I will tell you the health benefits, how to store, and great Japanese cooking recipes using charming crunchy Napa cabbage!!!
Jamp To Recipes
Is Napa Cabbage Chinese Cabbage?
When I learned how to say “Hakusai” in English, I was thought it is called “Chinese cabbage.” So, I thought Chinese cabbage refers to Hakusai (Napa) cabbage.
Recently, I knew that Chinese cabbage and Napa cabbage have a little different meaning.
Chinese cabbage (scientific name Brassica rapa, variety pekinensis) is a biennial plant of the rape family Brassicaceae and the generic term refers to vegetables in the same family includes napa cabbage, bok choy, and other vegetables in the same familyin the US.
Today’s topic is Napa cabbage in Chinese cabbage and it is called “Hakusai” in Japanese which means “the white vegetable or leaf.”
(By the way, bok choy in Japanese is “Chingensai.”)
The Taste Of Napa Cabbage
Napa cabbage is a cold-weather vegetable in Japan.
When it gets the frost, it becomes sweeter and tasty.
The taste is mild, slightly sweet, no-habit, juicy, but slightly peppery. Crunchy texture in a salad and gets melty texture in a stew. (I would describe it melty but some people do “mushy”.)
The leaves near the center are very sweet, to me, the taste is like Romaine lettuce.
Nutrition And Health Benefits
The main component of Hakusai cabbage is about 95% water, and the remaining 5% is nutritional. In particular, it is rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and folic acid,as well as potassium and calcium.
Vitamin C promotes the production of collagen which has an antioxidant effect and repairs skin and damage of the skin. It’s also well-known as one of the essential nutrition of skincare.
Vitamin K promotes blood coagulation and bone formation and is known as one of the Fat-soluble vitamins. They are absorbed along with fat in food and are stored in the fatty tissue and in the liver.
Folic acid particularly works red blood cell formation. Folic acid deficiency is known as the cause of anemia, so it’s great to take folic acid proactively in daily life.
Potassium is a mineral and electrolyte, which has the effect of helping to maintain consistent blood pressure and keeping sodium balance of the body.
The Shopping And Storage Tips For Napa Cabbage
The Shopping Tip
Is There The Season For Napa Cabbage?
Today, Napa cabbage is available thought the year at local grocery stores. Yet, the best season is the cold-weather season.
As I said, Napa cabbage in Japan is absolutely a winter crop vegetable because it is said it will become sweeter once getting frost. However, Napa cabbage maybe not the same species as Japanese Hakusai cabbage. However, I avoid buying it during the hot summer season.
Choose one- fresh-looking, vibrant, heavy, non-discoloring (yellowish, brownish), and leave are tightly wrapping. Don’t pick the one that the bottom cut is discoloring.
Sometimes you will see black spots on the ribs. In fact, neither a disease nor an insect. It is a kind of polyphenol in which protein is changed to α-amino nitrogen.
There is no problem eating. It is likely to occur due to excessive nitrogen fertilizer during cultivation.
Where To Buy Napa Cabbage?
Honesty I stop buying napa cabbage in American popular grocery stores because I got a really bitter one once. I was so disappointed with the taste and price. Since then, I have put in my effort to buy napa cabbage at oriental grocery stores (Chinese, Japanese, Korean grocery stores) although I have to drive far because the taste and quality are much familiar with Hakusai that I have been eaten. (sweeter, meaty, and tasty.)
Especially, Korean grocery stores have high-quality Napan cabbage for making Kimuchi.
Yet, I was very happy to napa cabbage at the local farmer’s market the other day so if you get it in the right season in the farmer, it may be successful to get a tasty one.
Of course in other states, different situations for sure.
The Storage Tip
Soak the napa cabbage in the water for a while until the leaves get lively. Not only the bottom but also water from the top. Cut off a brownish bottom surface if needed. You don’t need to cut off the whole bottom even to keep leaves.
Drain the water partially. Like taking out the bowl and let it sit for a while. Leave moisture inside and outside.
Wrap wet napa cabbage with a newspaper or kitchen paper towel and keep it in a plastic bag. Tie the bag loosely.
Store it in an upright position, do not lay it down.
This is the photo after 2 weeks I purchased.
If your pantry or garage gets cold enough temperature in winter, you can store wrapped wet napa cabbage in those places. It will last for 2 weeks and could be more. (But pay attention to not let it frozen.)
Remove a few leaves from the top layer if you don’t plan to use whole cabbage, and wrap it with wet paper again. Do not cut half if you want to keep it more.
While doing this process, if the bottom color is brownish, cut it again.
In this way, you can use for Romain lettuce, iceberg lettuce, green cabbage too.
Japanese Home Cooking Tips For Napa Cabbage
It’s common to use Napa cabbage for a salad here, but the Japanese often don’t eat it in that way. (At least in my home.)
However, pickled Napa cabbage is more popular than a salad. Generally, we cook Napa cabbage for stir-fry, winter hot pot, Gyoza, stew.
Napa cabbage can give you texture options depends on parts, cooking time, and cutting way.
If you plan to cook napa cabbage on the stove, it’s better to change cooking time depends on parts. White parts need more time to cook than leaves, so let’s divide white parts and leaves before throwing pots and pans.
The Cutting Tips
For keeping the charming crunchy texture of white parts, let’s slice them in the same direction of fibers.
In this way, it can keep water inside and can keep a crunchy texture without getting watery especially for stir-fry and for a salad.
In contrast, cut the white parts diagonally into pieces across the direction of fiber for hot pot dishes, stewed, soups. This cutting way is called “Sogi-giri”(そぎ切り) in Japanese cooking term.
Since the cut surface is wide, the taste easily penetrates, and it saves time to cook white parts.
Napa Cabbage is delicious and even more very versatile to cook with. It can be eaten fresh, stir-fry, sautee and cooked for a long time in a stew, soup, or Japanese hot pot.
Therefore, in Japanese home cooking recipes, there are thousands of recipes for Napa cabbage. So, I will tell you some of the recipes on the next page.