This is one of our all-time favorite salads, probably because it is almost an “anti-salad”. It does have lots of Napa cabbage, but it’s bathed a warm vinaigrette along with a good dose of bacon, sautéed mushrooms and blue cheese. Unlike most salads that feature light flavors, this dish is a full-on umami-bomb. But we aren’t complaining, this is the good stuff. The still crisp, and slightly bitter cabbage holds up against the strong, salty flavors of the bacon and blue cheese, the vinaigrette adds acidity and the sweet mushrooms round out the flavors and textures. What you get is a complete bite with a full spectrum of flavors and textures. And the last taste is as good as the first. This is a restaurant-quality dish.
And that isn’t surprising, as warm Napa cabbage salads are a bit of a specialty in some of our local restaurants. In fact, one local restaurant has changed owners and themes several times over the years, but the one constant is the warm Napa cabbage salad. It pretty much keeps the place in business. And as cooks move from job to job they take this recipe with them. So we are never surprised to see this dish on new menus. A good dish is a good dish, and there are only so many ways to make Napa cabbage appeal to the masses.
If you are unfamiliar with Napa cabbage, it is also called Chinese cabbage, Nappa cabbage or Celery cabbage. The Napa cabbage is large, usually the size and shape of a football or rugby ball, and has light green feathery leaves. Most consider the Napa’s flavor slightly sweeter and more delicate than green or red cabbage. But this is still cabbage, and the Napa has the bright, slightly bitter flavor you would expect. Napa cabbage needs mild weather to thrive, so it does well all year in the Bay Area, otherwise look for Napa cabbage in fall, early winter and spring. It’s hard to miss at the market. Just look for the big green oblong cabbage.
While we love this salad, we only recently found a good recipe for making this dish at home. We knew the ingredients, and there are plenty of recipes out there, but in our attempts the cabbage often seemed watery and limp compared to the restaurant version and our blue cheese melted too much. But if we tried to shorten the cooking time the cabbage wouldn’t be warm enough. And it is a “warm” salad. Happily, we found a recipe from Town Restaurant that gave us the technique we were missing. They noted that the key to getting the texture right was using room temperature cabbage. The warmer cabbage gets to temperature quickly and doesn’t steam or wilt the way cold cabbage will, and the shorter cooking time keeps your blue cheese from melting away. With this one change (and a few practical home adaptations), our version of the salad turned out just as good as the restaurant version. And since we use our home-cured bacon, our salad may be even better…;-)
(Adapted from a Town Restaurant recipe)
What You Get: A very rich, flavorful salad you can serve as a main course. Something to do with Napa cabbage.
What You Need: A very big skillet or large metal salad bowl for heating the cabbage. No other special equipment required. Se below for notes on using the large metal salad bowl to warm the salad.
How Long? About 20-30 minutes with mostly active time. You will spend some time chopping.
(Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a side)
- 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoons chopped shallots
- ½ teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 cup canola oil
- 8 slices bacon
- 1 pound of medium-sized mushrooms (white or brown)
- 6 oz. blue cheese, crumbled (plus 1.oz extra for garnish, if you like)
- 1 large Napa cabbage
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- To make the vinaigrette, add the vinegar, shallots, pepper, and mustard to a blender. Then, with the speed on high, slowly add the oil until the dressing emulsifies. Set aside (you will probably need to use only 1/2 of the vinaigrette for the recipe).
- Chop the cabbage, cross-wise, in 1/4 inch slices, set aside. Thinly slice the mushrooms and set aside. Cut the bacon slices into 1/4 thick lardons.
- Place your largest skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until well-browned, about 10 minutes. Remove the bacon from the pan and reserve about 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat. Add the mushrooms and cook until slightly browned, about 3-4 minutes. Place the bacon back in the pan.
- Then, moving quickly, add 1/2 of the vinaigrette to the pan and let it warm, about 1 minute. Immediately add the blue cheese and all the cabbage and toss until the cabbage is just warm and the blue cheese softens but isn’t completely melted, about 30-45 seconds. Remove from the heat. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add a dash of extra dressing, if needed.
- Serve the salad immediately on warm plates. Garnish with extra crumbled blue cheese, if you like.
- NOTE: If you don’t have a skillet large enough to fit the cabbage, you can use a large metal salad bowl. With oven mitts on, add all of the warm ingredients to the bowl with the cabbage. Hold the metal bowl over the stove and toss the cabbage until warm, about 30-45 seconds.
- Help! What Can I Make With a Giant Napa Cabbage? – Good Questions (thekitchn.com)
- Easy kimchi: kkakdugi (chicagoreader.com)
- white kim chi and a visit from sandor katz (culinariaeugenius.wordpress.com)
- Halupki (Stuffed Napa Cabbage with Sweet and Sour Sauce) (arugulafiles.typepad.com)
- Savoy Cabbage Cones (ninikbecker.wordpress.com)