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Celery cabbage, also known as Chinese cabbage or napa cabbage, is a leafy, green vegetable with white, edible stalks and stems commonly used in Chinese and Korean cuisine. Its scientific name is brassica pekinensis, and its Mandarin name is pe-tsai. Celery cabbage is thought to have a less distinct, yet sweeter taste than regular cabbage and, like tofu, readily absorbs the flavors of other foods.
The vegetable is thought to have originated in East Asia around 500 AD. It does not grow in the wild, but is thought to be a crossbreed between bok choy, another type of cabbage, and turnips. In the United States, it is known as napa cabbage because it was first cultivated in the Napa Valley in the state of California in the 1970s.
The cabbage leaves are usually chopped into thin strips for stir-fry dishes, but cooks may also cut the leaves and stems into larger pieces depending on the dish. In Korea, celery cabbage is pickled and made into an extremely popular food called kimchi. Korean cuisine also uses the raw leaves of the celery cabbage as wraps for ground pork or seafood, as stuffing for soup dumplings or for steamed mixed vegetable dishes.
Celery cabbage can also be prepared Western-style and eaten raw in a salad or chopped into thin slices for a cabbage coleslaw. It can also be used as a milder-flavored substitute for other types of cabbage in just about any dish from stuffed cabbage to cabbage soup. Compounds in celery cabbage called phytochemicals are thought by some researchers to lower cholesterol. These compounds are also being studied for their reported effects on estrogen, the female hormone, and its possible use in fighting breast cancer.
Celery cabbage is rich in vitamin C and fiber and is also thought to be a good source of zinc and iron. When shopping for the cabbage, individuals should look for bright green leaves that are tightly compacted together with no wilting. It can be kept fresh for up to a week when wrapped in newspaper or a plastic bag and refrigerated. Some cooks of Asian cuisine line bamboo steamers with celery cabbage leaves so cooking food won't stick to the bottom. If including them in a home garden, it is thought best to plant the seeds in summer for a harvest in the fall season, as the plants seem to grow best in a temperate climate.