This Sichuan Napa Cabbage Stir-fry, or Suan La Bai Cai (酸辣白菜) is going to be your next favorite vegetable side dish. Suan La Bai Cai means hot and sour napa cabbage and is a very popular dish in China.
One of Our Favorite Winter Vegetables
Napa cabbage is THE star when we talk about winter vegetables. Walk into any local produce market in China right now in the beginnings of winter season, and you will find truckloads of them with people buying three or four at a time.
I remember when I was very little living in Hubei, China…this was the only leafy vegetable we had in the deep winter. Every family hung them high on the kitchen wall, and there were enough to cover the whole perimeter of the kitchen. With no heating at that time, these vegetables lasted a couple of months, no problem! The outer leaves might look dry and shriveled up, but the inside was still perfect.
Napa cabbage, or bai cai, is really good sautéed with pork, added to soups, or dipped in the boiling broth of a hot pot. One of the most memorable dishes from that time was when my mother would put any leftovers into a soup pot, and then just add water, tofu and bai cai. She’d bring it to a boil and add some chili sauce—what a great meal that was, as we all huddled over the bubbling pot, eager to swim for “treasures” with our chopsticks.
A Simple Recipe with Complex Flavor
Today, I want to share this hot and sour napa cabbage stir-fry with you. It might look simple, but it has a very complex flavor. A reader actually requested this dish a while back, but I had to wait until the cold weather months, because now is the time to enjoy this awesome vegetable.
True to the name, this Sichuan napa cabbage stir-fry is both spicy and sour. I tend to make my dish a little on the spicier side, so remember to adjust to your own tastes accordingly.
I know you are probably wondering what happened to the leaves. I actually only used the stems, cutting the leaves off and saving them for other dishes.
The stems are much drier than the leaves, which can make your dish waterlogged. I sliced the stems on a 45 degree angle, so that there’d be enough surface area on them to absorb all the delicious sauce.
We highly recommend checking out our Chinese Ingredients Leafy Greens page for more information about Napa cabbage and other vegetables used in Chinese cooking.
On one final note, this dish comes together very quickly, so remember to prepare the sauce first in a mixing bowl before you start cooking!
In another small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in 1 tablespoon water to make a slurry. Set aside. (Remember, cornstarch settles quickly, so remember to stir the slurry again before adding it to the dish later).
Add the napa cabbage and turn up the heat to high. Stir-fry for 2 minutes.
Now add the prepared sauce and cook for another minute. Season with salt to taste (though you may not need it, as the soy sauce is pretty salty). Stir in the cornstarch slurry and stir-fry for one more minute, until the sauce is thickened.
Serve this hot and sour napa cabbage stir-fry with steamed rice.
Isn’t stir-frying great? A dish can come together in 5 minutes! Enjoy! And remember to save those napa cabbage leaves! They’re great in soups, or just stir-fried with a little garlic and salt.
Sichuan Napa Cabbage Stir-fry (Suan La Bai Cai)
For the sauce:
- Start by making the sauce by mixing together all the sauce ingredients until the sugar is dissolved. In another small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in 1 tablespoon water to make a slurry. Set aside. (Remember, cornstarch settles quickly, so remember to stir the slurry again before adding it to the dish later).
- Heat the oil in a wok over medium low heat. Add the garlic, chilies, and scallions, and cook for 1 minute. Add the cabbage and turn up the heat to high. Stir-fry for 2 minutes.
- Now add the prepared sauce and cook for another minute. Season with salt to taste (though you may not need it, as the soy sauce is pretty salty). Stir in the cornstarch slurry and stir-fry for one more minute, until the sauce is thickened. Serve with steamed rice.