Step into any katsu restaurant in Japan, and you'll undoubtedly encounter those glorious mounds of feathery shredded cabbage, sitting like a crown beside a crispy, golden cutlet of Tonkatsu. But this ain't no coleslaw and as simple as it is, a lot of technique goes into transforming this humble member of the Brassica genus into a visually stunning and texturally pleasing side salad.
Why This Recipe Works?
- Using the inner leaves of this vegetable ensures the salad is tender and flavorful
- Soaking the cabbage leaves in water helps crisp it up.
- Removing the stems eliminates any tough bits while allowing you to roll up the leaves so they're easier to slice thinly.
Is Cabbage Good for You?
In Japan, cabbage has long been believed to aid in the digestion of the rich, fatty foods it accompanies. While the scientific jury might still be out on that claim, it's low in calories yet high in fiber, with loads of vitamin K, and vitamin C. Cabbage is also rich in natural prebiotics, which can aid in digestion and help maintain a healthy gut flora.
- Cabbage - There's no magic here in the type of cabbage used, and Japanese cabbage salad is made using garden variety green cabbage. You do want to use a fresh head though and there are a couple things to look for. The first thing to check is the stem. Ideally it should be light in color and not brown or red. You also want to look for a head that's firm and heavy for its size with taut waxy leaves. If you want to go for a contrast of colors, you could also mix in some red cabbage, but I don't recommend making the entire salad out of it as it tends to be tougher and not as sweet. Other options to add a splash of color are shredded carrot, sliced red bell peppers, or chopped green onions.
How to Make Cabbage Salad
Remove any dark outer leaves, as these can be tough, stringy, and strongly flavored. You can set these leaves aside for other dishes like my Cabbage Rolls. What you want are the light-colored inner leaves, which are more tender and have a subtle sweetness that complements the richness of fried foods.
Once you've gotten to the tender leaves, peel off as many as you need. I usually figure 2-3 leaves per person. It's okay if the leaves tear, as we need to cut them into more manageable pieces anyway. Submerge the cabbage leaves in a bowl of cold water for at least 30 minutes. This soaking step reanimates the cabbage, making it nice and crisp.
After soaking, drain the cabbage well, shaking off any excess water. Now, you want to slice the leaves in half and remove the tough central stem. Next, stack up the segments of cabbage leaves, placing the largest pieces at the bottom and the smallest on top. This helps maintain balance as you roll them up, ensuring a tight, even roll.
Then, use the outermost leaf to roll up the stack as tightly as possible and use a very sharp knife to slice the roll as thinly as possible. Dull knives will not make your strips of cabbage thicker; they tear the leaves rather than slice them. This causes cellular damage that will make the cabbage lose its crisp texture.
Once sliced, toss it with your hands to fluff up the shredded cabbage and separate the layers.
Japanese Cabbage Salad Dressing
Japanese cabbage salad is traditionally served undressed. The cabbage's crisp, sweet nature is a refreshing counterpoint that offers a moment of respite from the savory richness of the dishes it's typically served with. That being said, there's no requirement to go undressed, and the go-to option in katsu restaurants is to drizzle a little of the same tonkatsu sauce you use as a condiment on the main dish. This Asian cabbage salad also tastes great with ordinary salad dressings like a simple olive oil and vinegar dressing, my Creamy Sesame Dressing, a refreshing Ginger Miso Dressing, or a nutty Gomadare.
Serve it With
While fried dishes like Chicken Katsu or Tofu Katsu are most commonly associated with this Japanese salad recipe, other panko breaded foods such as Ebi Fry, Panko Fried Oyster, and Korokke are all fair game. But this shredded cabbage is versatile enough to work alongside the myriad of Japanese fried chicken such as Karaage, Tebasaki, and Chicken Nanban. Finally, if you want to lay off the fried foods, this simple side dish also goes great with Tonteki (Japanese pork chops), Shogayaki (ginger pork), and my Japanese Tofu Steak.
- 180 grams cabbage
- Remove any dark outer leaves from the cabbage, as these can be tough and stringy with a strong flavor.
- Then, you want to peel off as many leaves of cabbage as you need salad. 180 grams cabbage will make enough salad for 2 generous portions. Soak these leaves in a bowl of cold water for at least 30 minutes.
- Drain the cabbage and shake off any excess water. Then, you want to cut the cabbage leaves in half and remove the tough central stem.
- Stack up the leaves with the biggest pieces at the bottom and the smallest pieces on top.
- Roll the stacked cabbage leaves tightly using the outermost leaf.
- Then, you want to slice the roll as thinly as possible using a very sharp knife.
- Fluff up the sliced cabbage with your hands and serve it alongside your favorite fried foods.