Fusion for Napa Cabbage
Several times during my years as a homemaker, the price of iceberg lettuce has gotten too high for a normal middle-class family to afford! When that happened in the 1980s, a friend introduced us to what he called ‘skunk cabbage’. It was Napa Cabbage and he called it ‘skunk’ because the shape was like a skunk’s tail! I quickly learned how to adjust my lettuce salad recipes to Napa Cabbage, and it was easy. My favorite part of the head of lettuce is the center crunchy core, so it was easy to learn to love Napa Cabbage! The tender leaves joined in a wonderful crunchy base, and we loved it!
Napa Cabbage has a mild flavor that is a cross between Iceberg Lettuce, celery and cabbage. In Asian cooking you find it in stir-fry, soups and eaten raw. It is the pickled ingredient in Kim Chee and is often called Chinese Cabbage.
Botanical evidence suggests that it was cultivated 4,000 years ago. It was brought to the United States in the 1880s by immigrant laborers from China and Japan. It is truly vintage!
Napa Cabbage will take on the flavors of things you cook with it. That makes it especially versatile in many cuisines. My favorite ‘vintage’ period is the 1940s through the 1960s. Cookbooks from those decades share recipes for salads and sides made with Chinese Cabbage, often using cream, which is an unusual ingredient in Asian cooking. Lion’s Head Meatballs is a popular Chinese dish that may have originated in China as early as the 1600s. The big meatballs resemble the head of the guardian lion. The meatballs are cooked in broth with Chinese Cabbage … our Napa Cabbage!
The recipe I’m sharing today is kind of a fusion! I love cabbage rolls (which are German to me); I love fried rice and I love Tai Basil Beef! Using the big outer leaves of the cabbage, I stuffed them with savory fried rice and prepared them for baking. I made a delicious sauce, rolled thin slices of sirloin roast. Let’s start with the sauce.
Tai Basil Sauce
Mix: 1 tsp of garlic paste, 1 T of fish sauce and another T of oyster sauce. Whisk in 1/3 cup of soy sauce and ¼ cup of brown sugar.
In a heavy saucepan, sauté a couple chopped green onions and a cup of loosely chopped Tai Basil in a T of olive oil. The onions will start to soften quickly and as soon as you see that happening, add the sauce ingredients. Stir for a couple minutes until the sugar melts away and the sauce is bubbling.
Prepare the Rolls and Meat
The leaves of the cabbage are pliable enough that you don’t need to pre-cook them in order for them to fold. Place a serving of prepared fried rice into each leaf and gently fold it around the rice.
Place your cabbage rolls in a baker and place a rolled piece of sirloin next to each one. Add several slices of bright red (bell) pepper to the dish and pour the sauce over it all. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. Before serving, drizzle smoked sesame oil over each serving and garnish with a big sprig of Tai Basil! The flavor is so good!
Remember the rest of your head of cabbage! You’ll find zillions of salad recipes online, but my favorite is the one that many of us make for potlucks! You know that recipe that calls for broken Ramen noodles on top … with almonds? You’ll find it online. Enjoy!
I’ll be sharing this with a couple blog parties, so make sure you look at my sidebar to find those sites. This post is part of my Vintage Vegetable food project for 2020. If you want to see other recipes, just click the page on my menu bar!