Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Does Napa cabbage come from Napa Valley?

Napa cabbage and five-spice tofu stir-fry

Does napa cabbage come from the Napa Valley?  Probably not, although it’s entirely possible that it has been grown in truck farms in California wine country.  It’s more likely that the name (also spelled as “nappa,” although Google prefers the single-p variant) comes from a Japanese word for “leaf vegetable.”

Call it what you like - “Chinese cabbage” is another available moniker, as is Brassica Pekinensis in formal botanical Latin - it’s one of my favorite forms of cabbage, with a crisper texture and sweeter flavor than our standard American cabbage, and to my taste buds at least, a milder, more appealing flavor and texture than the Asian bok choy.  Tracing its history in Northern China back some 3,000 years, it’s also popular in Korea, where it’s the mainstay of spicy, delicious kimchi. 

Last night, armed with a head of napa and a box of freshly made, organic and GMO-free five-spice flavor tofu, house-made at Louisville’s excellent Heart & Soy restaurant, I fashioned a quick stir-fry.

It came together more quickly than it took the rice to cook:  I chopped half of an onion into slivers and smashed, then minced a half-inch chunk of fresh ginger.  I used about half of the head of napa cabbage, chopping it into roughly one-inch squares, and made a flavor mix with 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, a dab of tomato paste, a small dash of sambal oelek (or Sriracha “Rooster” sauce), a good grind of black pepper, a dash of Chinese five-spice, and enough water to bring the mix up to about 2/3 cup.  I took the five-spice tofu out of the box and cut it into 1/2-inch dice. 

With all the prep work done first - stir-frying goes quickly, and you can’t stop to find and chop something that you forgot - I sauteed the onions in a wok in a little coconut oil until they started to brown; then added the minced ginger and a little salt to taste.  Then I put in the chopped cabbage and stir-fried just until it started to wilt; reduced the heat to low, added the liquid, stirred to mix, and then stirred in the diced tofu, simmering just until the tofu warmed through.

Served with rice and a simple salad dressed with a light lemon vinaigrette and dabs of Capriole Indiana goat cheese, it made a great match with a crisp white wine, Jean-Marc Brocard 2011 Saint-Bris Sauvignon.