The Napa Cabbage Salad I Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop Making
I come from a family of people who love things a little too much. When the movie version of Phantom of the Opera came out, we only listened to the soundtrack for months in the car, long before James Corden. And then there’s Sunset magazine’s Cowboy Caviar, a.k.a. a black-eyed pea, tomato, and avocado dip, which my mom makes for all occasions, a fierce loyalty that’s withstood decades. And then there was the phase when my dad watched the cerulean scene from The Devil Wears Prada every night as he flossed his teeth and got ready for bed. He can still quote almost every line.
That fanaticism switched back on once I was in the Test Kitchen recently and senior associate food editor Molly Baz presented this napa cabbage salad. Chef Ben Jackson dreamed it up when he had too much cabbage on hand at Drifters Wife in Portland, Maine (no. 9 in our Hot 10 list!). It’s a simple thing: salted napa cabbage (more on that later), a honey-apple cider vinegar dressing, toasted pistachios fragrant with orange peel and thyme, some chives, some parsley, lots of Parm.
I’ve grown up on only a couple kinds of cabbage preparations. Soupy napa cabbage that’s soggy and flimsy after being boiled to death in hot pot or fermented cabbage (kimchi from Korean supermarket chain Galleria). But once I stuffed a few huge, Parm-flecked shards of cabbage into my mouth, I was Inamine-level obsessed. The salad was textural and refreshing like the lovechild of a wedge and coleslaw. You get iceberg-like crunch from the napa cabbage, which is a bit fleshier than regular cabbage though rigid and flavorless when raw and unadorned. After being salted a few minutes ahead of time, its spines slacken and the thick leaves become slightly pliable and plump but still crisp overall. You also get the zing and slight creaminess of coleslaw with a vinaigrette of honey, apple cider vinegar, and a good amount of salt and pepper, and the generous mound of thinly shaved Parm crowning the salad. I wanted to eat more—but on my own time.
Since then, I’ve made the napa cabbage salad about four times, which is a lot for someone who usually moves on to new recipes and new cookbooks as they come out. Recently, I brought it to a friend’s place for a barbecue, and it was a hit. Not because anyone literally told me so, but because once I put the salad on the table where forks weren’t yet laid out, people starting to eat it with their hands. Even now that summer barbecue season is over, I’ve been making this napa cabbage salad, like the clockwork of Cowboy Caviar. For a potluck. For a lazy late summer dinner. For just me.