Napa cabbage can withstand long cooking. I like to use the whole leaves in hot pots or chaffing dishes.The longer it cooks, the softer and sweeter it becomes, like in 2 of the 3 napa cabbage soup recipes here.
The napa cabbage is known in Chinese as 北京白菜 (bei jing bai cai) or peking cabbage. So named because it was first found growing in Peking, the old name of Beijing, the current capital of China. It is also known as the celery cabbage and its scientific name is brassica pekinensis.
It should not be mistaken with the common green round cabbage, scientific name being Brassica oleracea. Celery cabbage or napa is cylindrical in shape with broad milky white stems and crinkly edged leaves.
The Chinese folk saying above extols the virtue of tofu and napa cabbage to keep us well.
It is indeed one of the most popular vegetables in East Asia. It is absolutely indispensable in Korea. A key ingredient in the world renowned kim chi or pickled cabbage. The Koreans are so in love with kim chi that they even travel with jars of them.
Its value is justified. It is abundant in vitamin C and E. It contains loads of soluble fiber which aids bowel movements and digestion. It also lowers blood cholesterol and improves strength of blood vessels. All essentials for the winter season.
American scientists have also discovered an element in the vegetable that neutralizes the female hormone related to breast cancer. It is generally believed that frequent consumption can improve the skin, prevent breast cancer, and detoxify the body. It has also been touted to prevent piles and colon cancer.
Many variations exist with cross breeding and improvements.
A recent popular variation is a dwarf. Known in mandarin as the "wa wa" cabbage 娃娃菜, which literally means baby cabbage. It looks like a miniature version of the napa cabbage. It is a result of careful breeding and is grown in the high mountains with minimum pollution. The wa wa cabbage is more expensive but highly nutritious and sweet.
I love wawa cabbage steamed whole and drizzled liberally with a sauce made from superior stock. Ok, I'm starting to drool.
Choose cabbage with firm crunchy leaves, tightly packed. Avoid those with limp and spotty leaves. Napa cabbage keeps quite well. Wrap in newspapers and store in the refrigerator.
The leaves are tightly packed together and should be separated before cooking. Wash and soak to remove any dirt and soil.
The leaves are big so they are frequently chopped up before cooking. Most of the time, they are chopped into thin strips but they can also be cut into squares or irregular shapes for stir-fry. Alternatively, you can use individual leaves and make these steamed cabbage rolls.
Unless most green leafy vegetables, napa cabbage can withstand long cooking. I like to use the whole leaves in hot pots or chaffing dishes. The longer it cooks, the softer and sweeter it becomes. That's not saying that napa cannot be used in quick soups.
Cabbage leaves absorb flavours readily. Pair it with ingredients with strong flavours such as in a soup with duck breast or stir fry with dried ikan bilis.