This Crunchy Napa Cabbage Salad is a favorite at my temple’s Chanukah Mart. A huge shopping bazaar, filled with items to buy and homemade food to eat, the Mart is fun whether you buy or just window shop. Other than baked goods (sold wrapped and ready to go), you choose food by going down a line, selecting your favorite Jewish food treats. Chopped liver, stuffed cabbage, kugel, brisket, and of course, latkes. But along with all this traditional stuff, there is a salad that keeps many attendees coming back year after year.
Its originator, Marisa Osborne, was a native of Morocco, who married an American after WWII. She had lived in the US for decades, but retained a heavy accent. Marisa, bless her heart, was old school. She called this Oriental Salad and would never have understood why that name just won’t work these days. Marisa used to make many batches of the salad for the Chanukah Mart, right up until the year she passed away.
Once she was gone, my friend Carole Brand renamed it Asian Salad and took over organizing the salad-making. She and I do the cabbage and dressing in an assembly line. Carole finds someone else to make the “crunchies.” On the day of the Chanukah Mart, we mix it together one batch at a time.
Having decided to blog about the salad, I found the name not quite accurate. While it contains soy sauce, rice vinegar and ramen noodles, the salad is not a truly Asian dish. So I re-named it for the main ingredient with a nod to the crispy bits that make it so special. And that is how Crunchy Napa Cabbage Salad got its name.
If you’re worried that this is like cole slaw, have no fear. This cabbage is nothing like its round cousin and the dressing and crunchies give it an altogether different twist than the typical picnic salad of shredded white or green cabbage.
Napa Cabbage, also known as Chinese cabbage, is milder than the round variety. If you don’t know the difference, check out this explanation from the Kitchn. Elizabeth Schneider writes about this enticing vegetable in her books, Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables, and Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini. She says you can store it tightly wrapped in plastic for about 2 weeks. However, Schneider says it only lasts a few days for salad. I didn’t find it so delicate. After 2 weeks, mine was still fresh enough for Crunchy Napa Cabbage Salad. The crisp and juicy white stem is nothing like the woody-tasting stem of a round white or green cabbage. The tender leaves are delicious. You can easily shred them by rolling them up like I do for kale. Or, you can lay several leaves on top of one another and slice them into thin shards.
The cabbage is the star of the show. You dress it with a 4-ingredient Asian-influenced vinaigrette. The crunchies are embarrassing simple – just baked dry ramen noodles and sliced almonds.
Although we sprinkle the noodles with a touch of the seasoning packet, it’s not essential. If ramen seasoning is not your cup of tea, substitute freshly ground pepper and a bit of another spice. I have not played around with spices in this salad, but my instinct says crushed star anise or cardamom might be nice.
This salad is best put together at the last minute. However, you can prepare the cabbage/scallion mixture, dressing and crunchies ahead of time. Then store them separately. When you’re ready to eat, just dress the amount of cabbage you want and add the crunchies on top.
That’s how I used this batch. When you have a busy week ahead and want quick salad, choose this one. For more variety in the vegetables, add shredded carrots, or pencil-thin pieces of roasted beets.
Crunchy Napa Cabbage Salad
This simple salad is great for a large group. Or make the elements, store them separately, and put together small portions as you want them.
- 1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup unflavored vegetable oil (canola or similar)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce (can use reduced sodium)
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 packages dried ramen noodles, crushed
- 3-4 tablespoons slivered almonds
- 1/2 teaspoon seasoning from noodle package or freshly ground pepper
- 1 head Napa or Chinese cabbage, trimmed (about 1-2" off bottom), then shredded
- 1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced (green and light green parts)
Put rice vinegar and sugar in small pot under medium-low flame. Heat, stirring, just until the sugar has completely dissolved.
Add the oil and soy sauce to the vinegar and sugar. Stir or whisk until well combined and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Melt the butter on a foil-lined cookie sheet. (That takes about 4 minutes.) Break up the dried ramen noodles in a medium-sized bowl. They don't have to be crushed to a pulp - just made into bite-sized pieces. Mix in the almonds. Spread the mixture on the cookie sheet. Gently mix the butter and crunchies so that the latter are lightly covered with butter. Bake for 10-15 minutes until light golden brown, stirring once or twice while they bake.
Sprinkle the seasoning powder on the crunchies, mix it in, and set the crunchies aside to cool.
Mix the scallion slices and shredded cabbage.
Just before serving, whisk the dressing again, pour it over the cabbage and top with crunchies. To reserve part of the salad, keep the 3 elements: dressing; crunchies; and cabbage/scallion mixture in separate well-sealed containers. Only the cabbage/scallion mixture needs refrigeration.