What is hakusai? In this article, you will learn all about napa cabbage, its origins, how nutritious it is as well as delicious recipes that center this ingredient.
What is hakusai?
Hakusai is the Japanese word for napa cabbage which is a type of Chinese cabbage with a crunchy texture and mild flavor. It’s different from green cabbage in a few ways. It’s longer and larger in size, plus its leaves have a wrinkled appearance to them.
Napa cabbage belongs to the mustard family, aka Brassicaceae. Other vegetables in this category include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, turnip and radish. All of these vegetables have a distinct flavor and similar nutritional profiles.
Hakusai or napa cabbage originated in the Beijing region of China, but has since spread to all parts of East Asia and is an integral part of Japanese cooking and Korean cuisine. Napa cabbage can be found in iconic dishes such as kimchi in Korea and many hot pot dishes in Japan.
But despite being associated with Asian cuisine, it has become popular across the globe. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the crop has spread across the world and is now grown all over Europe, Australia and North and South America.
Where to buy
Napa cabbage or hakusai can be found at your local Asian grocery store or International food market. It can also be found at your local grocery store or health foods store depending on your region. I have been able to find napa cabbage at my local Whole Foods and Sprouts.
All leafy greens are packed with fiber and vitamins and napa cabbage is no exception. It’s a great addition to your diet particularly if you are running low on fiber and vitamin K.
The following information was collected from cronometer.com using the entry “Napa Cabbage, Raw” and “Napa Cabbage, Cooked” from the NCC database.
One cup of raw napa cabbage contains about 12 calories. This is a very low amount of calories, even for a vegetable. One cup of cooked napa cabbage contains about 17 calories, which is still a low amount.
One cup of raw napa cabbage contains almost 3 grams of carbohydrates. Of these three grams, one gram of carbohydrates comes from fiber. Napa cabbage is considered a low carbohydrate food source.
One cup of raw napa cabbage contains about 1 gram of protein. This is a very small amount of protein, so be sure to pair your cabbage with a protein source like dairy, meat, poultry, eggs or soy products.
One cup of raw napa cabbage contains less than 1 gram of fat. Since napa cabbage is rich in fat soluble vitamins like vitamin K, make sure to cook it or pair it with a fat source like oil, avocado or dairy.
One cup of raw napa cabbage is a good source of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), folate, vitamin C and vitamin K. It’s surprisingly nutrient dense, especially considering all of these vitamins are packed into just 12 calories worth of food.
How to clean
To clean your napa cabbage or hakusai, simply run it under cold water, separating each leaf to make sure all the layers get clean. Once rinsed off, you should prepare your dish right away.
If you plan to use your cleaned napa cabbage in a dish later in the week, thoroughly dry the leaves (making sure to get into the crevices) and store in a crisper drawer.
Due to the extra moisture, your napa cabbage will spoil faster if cleaned several days before using it. This is why I would recommend cleaning it immediately before use.
Alternatives to napa cabbage
If you don’t like the taste or texture of napa cabbage, you can replace it with other cruciferous vegetables including bok choy, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, watercress, Brussels sprouts, arugula, turnips or radish.
Recipes using napa cabbage
Napa cabbage or hakusai can be found in a wide variety of recipes, but two that come to mind right away are kimchi, a Korean spicy fermented cabbage dish and mille-feuille nabe, a Japanese hot pot dish with pork. Recipes for both can be found below.
Kimchi is a delicious side dish consumed with most meals in Korean cuisine. It’s spicy and sour and pairs great with meat and rice. The below recipe is adapted from maangchi.com.
- 1 head of napa cabbage
- ½ cup salt (kosher, sea salt, table)
- 2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons sweet rice flour
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
- 2 cups daikon radish, cut into matchsticks
- 1 cup carrots, cut into matchsticks
- 10 stalks of green onion, finely chopped
- 2 head of garlic, peeled into individual cloves and minced
- 1 inch ginger, peeled and chopped
- 1 yellow onion, minced
- ½ cup fish sauce
- ¼ cup fermented salted shrimp
- 2 cups gochugaru
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds (optional)
- Cut your napa cabbage lengthwise twice so it’s in four long pieces. Coat the leaves in the salt, making sure to coat each individual leaf. Let rest for 2 hours, flipping every 30 minutes or so.
- Rinse the cabbage leaves under cold water, rinsing off any excess salt. Drain well.
- In a small pot, combine the water and sweet rice flour. Stir until dissolved and place over medium heat. Cook until it starts to bubble, then add the sugar and cook until dissolved. Set aside to cool.
- To the same pot, add the garlic, ginger, onion, fish sauce, fermented shrimp and gochugaru. Mix well to combine all the ingredients. Add the radish, carrot and green onion and fold together.
- Coat the napa cabbage leaves in the kimchi mixture, making sure to get in between each layer and coat evenly. Transfer the napa cabbage leaves to a container and stack on top of each other.
- Seal the container and keep the kimchi in a dry, cool area that isn’t in any direct sunlight. Let it ferment for a few days, or until the surface bubbles when you press down on the kimchi.
- To ensure your container doesn’t explode, open the top a few times a day to release any stored gas. Once your kimchi begins to bubble, transfer to the refrigerator and enjoy!
Mille-feuille nabe is a Japanese style hot pot dish that is both simple and delicious. Personally, I think it tastes similar to the inside of pork gyoza.
- ½ head of napa cabbage
- ¾ lb of pork loin, cut into thin strips
- 2 inches ginger, peeled and sliced
- 2 cups dashi stock
- 1 tbsp sake
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- Salt, to taste
- Ponzu, for dipping
- Cut the napa cabbage lengthwise twice so it’s in four long pieces. You will only need two of those pieces for this recipe.
- In between each layer of napa cabbage, add a slice of pork loin. Continue this process until there are no pork slices left.
- Use a sharp knife to cut the napa cabbage into 3-4 inch long pieces. Each piece should be layered with pork and cabbage leaves.
- In a large pot, layer the cabbage pieces along the side, moving into the center. Once all the pieces are added to the pot, it should look like a flower.
- To the pot, add the dashi stock, sake, soy sauce, salt and ginger slices. Gently nestle the ginger slices between the layers of cabbage and pork wherever you can.
- Place the pot over medium heat. Once the mixture is boiling, reduce to low heat, cover and simmer for 8 minutes.
- Serve with white rice and ponzu for dipping.