Known as Big White Vegetable (Dà Bái Cài/大白菜/) in Chinese, Napa cabbage plays such an important role that an old Chinese saying claims “Bǎi Chī Bú Yàn Dà Bái Cài/百吃不厌大白菜”, meaning “One can never get tired of eating Napa cabbage”. It used to be one of the few vegetables available during winter in Northern regions of the country. So most home cooks master skills for cooking it in various ways. You can find it in salads, stir-fries, soups, dumplings, steamed & braised dishes, etc.
My personal favorite has always been stir-fried Napa cabbage with hot & sour sauce (醋溜白菜). It’s a simple, humble dish that calls for common ingredients and requires basic stir-frying techniques. Yet, to produce it to a restaurant quality, you’ll need to pay attention to a few important details.
When it comes to cutting vegetables for Chinese stir-fried dishes, there are a couple general rules to follow:
- Make sure to drain/dry the cabbage leaves very well after washing as you wouldn’t want too much water going into the wok.
- Cut off the end of the cabbage (about 1cm). Separate all the leaves with your hands. Cut the vegetable in a way that enables maximum surface absorption of flavours from the sauce. Lay one leave flat on the chopping board. Cut it into bite-sized pieces at a 30-degree angle. Repeat to finish all the leaves. All the pieces are cut approximately the same size. This is to ensure even doneness during cooking.
- When stir-frying, the heat should be high and the cooking time needs to be as short as possible. This way, the white part of the cabbage remains crunchy and the dish doesn’t look too wet.
450g/1lb napa Cabbage大白菜, cut into bite size
2 tablespoons cooking oil
4 cloves, garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
5 to 6 dried red chili干辣椒
1 to 2 sprig spring onions, sliced
1 tablespoon corn starch淀粉
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons white sugar白糖
1 and half tablespoons chinkiang vinegar镇江香醋
1 tablespoon light soy sauce生抽
½ tablespoon dark soy sauce老抽
2 tablespoons water
- Prepare the cabbage. Separate the leaves of the Napa cabbage. Lay one leaf flat on the chopping board. Cut it into bite-sized pieces at a 30-degree angle. Repeat to finish the rest.
- Mix the stir-fry sauce. In a bowl, combine corn starch, salt, sugar, chinkiang vinegar, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce and water.
- Now let’s stir-fry. Heat up a wok over high heat until it starts to smoke. Add into 2 tablespoons cooking oil then add garlic and dried chilies. Fry until fragrant (do not burn). Put in the cabbage. Stir fry until the green leafy part starts to wilt but the white part remains crunchy..
- Give the sauce a good stir then pour into the wok. Add spring onions. Mix well. Remove from the heat once the sauce thickens. Serve immediately.