In one form or another, brassicas , or cabbages, have been cultivated as important foods in the West for thousands of years. But the so-called Chinese varieties have also long been important staple foods throughout the Orient.
East or West, all are members of the mustard family. Our name cabbage derives from the Latin caulis , or cole, and caput , meaning a stalk or stem with a head. The Oriental varieties, however, are more like wide elongated stalks without the noticeably round heads that characterize most of the familiar Western cabbages.
Chinese immigrants to America brought with them an intriguing variety of native green leafy vegetables, including cabbages. Generally regarded as Chinese vegetables, they were at first grown here in limited quantities and were generally sold only in Oriental markets. Now they are widely cultivated in the United States and some of them are readily available in supermarkets.
The names of these Oriental or Chinese cabbages are confusing. Some varieties are called by several different or the same terms and there are a number of alternate spellings. Some supermarkets use the same name for all of the vegetables. One reason for the confusion is that the Cantonese referred to them by one name and the Northern Chinese by another.
Many of the cabbages look alike and can be used interchangeably in recipes, yet each has a distinctive flavor and character.
Bok choy also called pak-choi, boktoi , Chinese cabbage or chard, and in Japanese hakusia , means "white cabbage." It has a long and broad smooth thick and rounded white stalk and large dark green leaves with pronounced white veins. It has a mild and pleasant flavor and crisp texture. Most recipes call for the use of only the stalks but the leaves can be used in soups.
Celery cabbage, also called Chinese cabbage, long cabbage, and pe-tsai or pai-tsai , is a 14-to-16-inch long and 4-to-6-inch wide delicate crisp vegetable with long leaves that are whitish and firm in the stemlike center part and light green and fringed at the sides and top. They are tightly packed, broad-ribbed, and strong-veined. The flavor is half celery and half cabbage. Most recipes call for the use of only the stalks, but the leaves can be used in soups.
Chinese cabbage, also called napa , or nappa cabbage, is rounder and fatter than celery cabbage but has a similar appearance. It has a mild, delicate flavor and crisp texture.
These cabbages are sold fresh. Once purchased, cut off the root end and separate and wash the leaves.Shake to remove excess water. Cut the leafy portions from stalks, and cut leaves into strips or shred them. Slice the stalks crosswise or diagonally into bite-size strips or pieces. Wrap in a plastic bag and Store in the refrigerator to crisp. Use promptly.
The cabbage stalks may be eaten raw and are particularly good in salads. Because cabbages contain a large amount of water, they should be cooked in only a small amount of liquid to keep their texture and to retain the valuable vitamins and minerals. The cabbages are excellent sources of vitamin C and are also low in calories. Cabbages should be cooked only long enough to bring out all their qualities of crispness, tenderness and brightness of color. A somewhat crunchy texture is desirable. Once cooked, the cabbages wilt quickly and lose their texture and become sweeter in flavor.
Although the cabbages may be boiled in a little water or broth, and they may be steamed or sauteed, the preferable way of cooking is to stir-fry and braise them. Add the cut-up stalks to hot peanut or salad oil in a wok or wide skillet and cook, stirring, until well coated with oil. Add a little liquid and cook slowly, covered, 3 or 4 minutes, until just tender. Good seasonings that may be added to the basic dish are garlic, onions, fresh ginger, soy sauce, vinegar and sugar.
Given below are recipes for four excellent cabbage dishes.
CELERY CABBAGE-MUSHROOM SOUP
(6 servings) 6 scallions, cleaned and sliced, with some tops 2 cloves garlic, crushed 3 tablespoons peanut or salad oil 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced 6 cups beef bouillon 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger 2 to 3 tablespoons soy sauce 1/4 teaspoon pepper 4 cups shredded celery cabbage leaves
Saute scallions and garlic in heated oil in a large saucepan until tender. Add mushrooms and saute 3 minutes. Add bouillon, ginger, soy sauce and pepper. Bring to a boil; lower heat and cook slowly, covered, 10 minutes. Stir in cabbage leaves and cook, still covered, 5 minutes longer.
STIR-FRY BEEF WITH CELERY CABBAGE
(4 servings) 1 1/2 pounds round beefsteak 3 tablespoons peanut or salad oil 1 large onion, peeled and sliced 2 cloves garlic, crushed 1 cup beef bouillon 3 cups cut-cup celery cabbage stalks 1 large green pepper, cleaned and sliced 2 teaspoons cornstarch 3 tablespoons soy sauce
Remove any fat from steak and cut into small strips, about 1/2-by-3 inches. Stir-fry in 2 tablespoons heated oil in a wok or large skillet until all redness disappears. Remove to a plate. Stir-fry onion and garlic in drippings in the same wok or skillet until tender. Return steak strips to wok. Add bouillon and cook, uncovered, 5 minutes. Add celery cabbage stalks and green pepper. Stir-fry 1 or 2 minutes. Cook slowly, covered, about 5 minutes, until beef is tender and vegetables are cooked but still firm. Dissolve cornstarch in soy sauce. Add and cook, mixing, until slightly thickened. Serve at once with hot crisp noodles or rice.
STIR-FRY BOK CHOY WITH VEGETABLES
(4 servings) 1 medium-size head bok choy 1 large carrot, scraped and sliced thinly 1 large onion, peeled and sliced thinly 2 tablespoons salad oil 1/3 cup water 1 tablespoon cider vinegar 1 or 2 tablespoons soy sauce 2 teaspoons sugar 2 teaspoons cornstarch
Cut off root end of bok choy. Separate stalks; wash thoroughly. Cut green leaves from stalks; cut leaves into small strips. Slice diagonally the stalks into bite-size pieces. Wipe dry and chill in refrigerator if not to be cooked at once. (Keep leaves for another dish). Stir-fry carrot and onion in heated oil in a wok or large skillet. Add stalks and stir-fry 3 or 4 minutes. Combine remaining ingredients; add to vegetables. Cook, stirring, 1 or 2 minutes, until vegetables are tender but still crisp. Serve at once.
CHINESE CABBAGE WITH VEGETABLES
(4 to 6 servings) 1 bunch Chinese cabbage (nappa) 1 large onion, peeled and sliced 2 cups bean sprouts, washed and drained 1 large green pepper, cleaned and cut into strips 1/4 cup sliced water chestnuts 3 tablespoons peanut or salad oil 1/4 cup water 3 tablespoons soy sauce
Cut off root end of cabbage. Separate stalks; wash thoroughly. Discard any tough outer leaves. Tear leaves into bite-size pieces. Wipe dry, refrigerate if not to be cooked at once. Stir-fry onion, bean sprouts, green pepper and water chestnuts in heated oil in a wok or large skillet for 5 minutes. Add cabbage pieces and stir-fry about 2 minutes. Add water and soy sauce; mix well. Cook slowly, covered, about 1 1/2 minutes, until vegetables are tender but still firm.
Note: Stir-fry cooking times are not exact as they will depend on the degree of heat. CAPTION: Picture, no caption