Hakusai (Nappa or Napa Cabbage) Nibitashi is a very typical home-made Japanese side dish. It is light, healthy, and subtly flavored, and can go with any entree and steamed rice. You don’t see this traditional small dish very often at Japanese restaurants in the US, but it is a perfect vegetable side dish for everyday dinners.
Nappa Cabbage has large white stems with green frilly leaves. Even though it is called cabbage, it doesn’t taste much like cabbage or have the same texture. Nappa Cabbage cooks softer with a milder taste. It contains a lot of water that is released when cooked, so it needs to be seasoned accordingly. Today a lot of markets carry Nappa Cabbage in the US, so you don’t need to bother to go to the Japanese markets to buy it, which is a big plus. Nappa Cabbage is the main vegetable for Nabemono (hot pot), but you can also cook in many different ways such as Nibitashi here or Tsukemono (pickled vegetables).
Nibitashi is a cooking method of braising vegetables with a seasoned broth. Leaving and cooling ingredients in the seasoned broth is the key to absorbing flavor well. As it hardly uses any oil, it is a very healthy way of cooking. However, because it doesn’t contain much fat, it sometimes tastes a little too simple.
This recipe adds Aburaage, deep-fried thin Tofu, to the dish to deepen the flavor. If you don’t have Aburaage at home (it is easily frozen, so it works well to buy in bulk from Japanese stores), or if you would like to add more protein, you can use some chicken thigh pieces to add more complex flavor. Or omit Aburaage and simply enjoy Nappa Cabbage itself. Either way, it is a versatile little dish and will come to the dinner table over and over once you taste it.
- 1/4-1/2 Nappa cabbage (350-400 g)
- 1 large (rectangle) or 2 small (squares) Aburaage (thin fried Tofu)
- 1 cup (240 ml) Dashi
- 1 tsp Soy Sauce
- 1 Tbsp Mirin
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Cut Nappa cabbage into squares, about 2" in size. Cut Aburaage into 1/2" (1 cm) strips.
- In a pot, put Dashi, Soy Sauce, Mirin, and salt, and let boil. Add cabbage, and cook coved at medium heat for 5 minutes. When cabbage is wilted, add Aburaage. Cook for a few minutes, and let cool covered.