Oriental cabbage and apples make delicious autumn meals
The calendar says its autumn – a time when apples and cabbages are at their peak. In addition to the common, round cabbage heads there are many Oriental varieties: tubular heads of Napa and non-heading choy. They’re gaining popularity and becoming widely available at farmers’ markets and supermarkets. The name cabbage is misleading, because botanically, these greens are more closely related to turnips and swedes than to cabbage.
Because they’re sweet, tender and more delicate than traditional green cabbage, Choy and Napa varieties appeal to sensitive palates. Easier to digest, with fewer gaseous effects than European cabbages, they cook quickly and lack the strong odor cabbage emits while boiling. They are great stir-fried, either alone or in combination with other vegetables. They’re also good in one-pot dishes, casseroles and soups. When young and tender, they make wonderful salads.
There are numerous varieties, since Chinese and Japanese plant breeders have spent hundreds of years selecting within them. There are at least 15 to 20 different varieties of the heading (Napa) cabbages, and about the same of the non-heading Choys. Napa is the best-known heading variety, and Bok choy is the best-known non-heading type.
The slender, crisp, tubular heads of Napa resemble Romaine lettuce, but are thicker, with thin white ribs and pale green leaves. The inner leaves add crispness and flavor to salads, garnishes, or an Oriental coleslaw. It can be steamed, boiled, sautéed, braised and stir-fried. Popular ethnic dishes using this tender cabbage include Asian stir-fries and fried rice, Korean kimchi, and Thai Napa soup.
Low in calories (12 per cup of raw Napa) it is high in fiber and vitamin C, a good source of folic acid and vitamin A, and contains small amounts of the minerals potassium, calcium, and iron. As a brassica, Napa also contains phytochemical compounds that help fight cancer.
To prepare, cut out the core and rinse the leaves under running water to remove loose sand and dirt that may cling to them. Be sure not to overcook; it is ready in just a few minutes. Add the white bottoms to the pot first, and the tender greens later.
Bok choy (also called pac choi) is a non-heading cabbage variety with bright white, crunchy stems and dark green leaves. One of the oldest Oriental vegetables, it has been cultivated in China since the 5th century AD. Asian markets feature many kinds of choy, differing in shape and size but similar in flavor. Tat soi (also known as spoon cabbage) has spoon-shaped leaves and an interesting, peppery flavor somewhere between cabbage and mustard.
Like other cruciferous vegetables, choys contain sulforaphane, which stimulates cancer-protecting enzymes. They’re great non-dairy sources of bone-building calcium, and are rich in the antioxidant vitamins A, C, E, and folic acid. The dark-green leaves are rich in antioxidants and minerals and good in both raw and cooked dishes.
At the farmers’ market or supermarket, look for fresh, crisp leaves that show no signs of wilting, yellowing or browning. Like most greens, Bok choy will only stay fresh for a few days, so eat it as soon as possible. Store greens in the refrigerator, and don’t wash until ready to use.
The white stems can be used in place of celery in salads, though they have a milder taste. Use the green leaves in egg dishes like frittatas, omelets or quiche. You can mix chopped steamed Bok Choy greens with pasta or rice, and season with garlic, olive oil or butter, and lemon juice. You can also steam the large leaves and use instead of cabbage to wrap grain, vegetables or meat as you would stuffed cabbage. Both stems and leaves add flavor and crunch to Asian dishes like stir-fries and fried rice. Add them to stir-fry dishes towards the end because of the fast cooking time. In just three to four minutes, the leaves become tender but remain bright green and the white stem retains its crispness.
Oriental Cabbage, apple and chicken salad
This easy, light main dish salad is one of our family favorites.
1 teaspoon cooking oil
1/2 chicken breast (about 2 cups) cooked & shredded
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 small head Napa cabbage (about 4 cups) OR bok choy stems and young leaves
2 apples, diced
1 1 cup grapes, sliced in half or 1/4 cup raisins (or both)
2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon apple juice
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Heat oil in small skillet. Add chicken, sprinkle with soy sauce, and cook on low to medium heat, covered, turning occasionally, until opaque and cooked through, about ten minutes. Set aside. Or use two cups leftover cooked diced chicken or pork.
While chicken is cooking, wash cabbage and slice thinly. Combine dressing ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously, or stir with a wire whisk to blend in the oil. In large salad bowl, mix dressing with cabbage. Cut off ends of scallions and any brown parts, slice in quarter inch pieces and stir into the salad. Wash, core, and dice the apples, and stir into the salad along with the raisins. Wash grapes and cut in half; add. When chicken has cooled enough to handle, dice or shred finely, and stir into the salad.
This salad benefits by marinating in the dressing; make it at least a couple hours early, and give it a stir once in a while.
Makes about three 2-cup servings.
Oriental Cabbage & Apple Stir-Fry
1 Tablespoon oil
1/2 pound boneless chicken breast or thighs
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger root
1 bunch bok choy
1-2 Tablespoons soy sauce
Heat oil in wok or large skillet. Cook chicken, turning once, until done and opaque, about 7 minutes. Set aside.
Peel and dice the onion, garlic and ginger. Add to the same skillet and cook three to five minutes. Wash the greens; drain. Slice stems. Wash, core and dice apple. Add greens, stems and apple to skillet, stirring just three to four minutes until tender. Season to taste with soy sauce. Chop the chicken and return to skillet with the greens; cook until heated through, one to two minutes.
Serves two to three.
Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook as Author