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What’s that vegetable? The crisp napa cabbage

Michelle Hainer

I first heard of napa cabbage a few months ago, when my husband wanted to make Alton Brown’s recipes for dumplings and it called for shredded cabbage, preferably of the napa persuasion. I couldn’t find the stuff, so we went with regular cabbage that night. A few weeks ago, I was at one of my favorite veggie stands at the weekend farmers market in my town when I stumbled upon a bin of this elusive cabbage. I was surprised to see that it more closely resembles a head of romaine lettuce then it does your typical cabbage (which often looks like iceberg). I picked up a couple of heads and started thinking about what to do with it.

Michelle Hainer

Contrary to its name, napa cabbage doesn't hail from California wine country. The moniker comes from the Japanese word nappa, which means the leaves of vegetables. Also known as celery cabbage, the vegetable is popular in Asian dishes, especially Korean kimchi.

It lends itself well to a slaw but I wanted to use it as a lettuce wrap of sorts. I remembered a recipe for chicken lettuce wraps which I had adapted from the blog, RecipeGirl. That dish calls for bibb or Boston lettuce, but napa cabbage would make a worthy—and equally healthy—substitution!

Lettuce wraps (adapted from RecipeGirl.com)

Serves 3-4

  • 1 head of Napa cabbage, leaves removed, rinsed and patted dry
  • 2 large boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 head of green cabbage, shredded
  • 1/2 cup peanuts, shelled
  • 1 can water chestnuts, chopped

For the sauce:

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

In a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the sauce to taste. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, carrots, water chestnuts and peanuts. Meanwhile, grill the chicken. (I also marinated the chicken in a tablespoon of each of soy sauce, vinegar, hoisin and sesame oil, but feel free to keep it simple with just a little sesame oil and salt and pepper). When the chicken is cooked, cut it into cubes and add it to the cabbage mixture. Pour on the sauce and toss thoroughly to coat. Serve atop the cabbage leaves.

Get more tips and recipes for seasonal eats at Made By Michelle.