Key Ingredient

Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga

Ingredient of the week

Won Bok

It is probably the most utilized and versatile Asian cabbage variety. Although a native of China, it is a staple in Japanese and Korean diets as well. There is certainly no kim chee without won bok.

The basics: Won bok, also known as hakusai, celery cabbage or napa cabbage (no relation to Napa Valley, Calif.), is widely cultivated around the world. Traditionally a winter vegetable, won bok is now grown year-round. California and Hawaii are major producers.

Its oblong shape and greenish-white, crinkly leaves distinguish it from its Asian cabbage cousins, such as bok choy. A handful of varieties are grown, but the two most common in markets are a short and stout variety and a long, darker green variety.

Won bok has a very mild, sometimes sweet flavor. It will absorb much of the flavor from added seasonings and spices. Won bok is also a good source of vitamin A and folic acid.

Selecting: Choose compact and heavy heads of cabbage with crisp leaves. Watch out for wilted leaves or decay in the center of the head.

Storing: Store cabbage in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week. Discard outer leaves that develop brown spots.

Use: If using the entire head of cabbage, rinse and chop off the core end. Remove any dirt at the end of the stem. The leaves can then be chopped or sliced thinly. Won bok can be stir-fried, added to soups, used as a wrap or simply julienned and served raw in a salad. The cabbage cooks rather fast, so add it in the final stages of cooking.

Of course, many in Hawaii believe the best way to enjoy won bok is in kimchee.

Where to buy: Won bok is available year-round and can be found in almost any market. It is a very affordable vegetable, generally priced at 50 cents to $1 a pound, with sale prices dropping as low as 30 cents per pound.

Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga is
a free-lance food writer. Contact her
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