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Substitute for Napa Cabbage

Many recipes call for Napa cabbage, and if you have none available, there are plenty of vegetables to use instead. In this article, I will share my favorite substitute for Napa cabbage, depending on what you make, but ultimately, the decision is up to you. Don’t let one ingredient keep you from creating delicious meals you crave! 

Napa cabbage on a cutting board with other vegetables around it.

What is Napa Cabbage?

Napa cabbage is a Chinese cabbage with an elongated shape and pale green, yellowish leaves and is a staple in East Asian cuisine. They have a mild flavor, making them great for stir fry, soupsalad, braised dishes, and pickled sides like kimchi or Hokusai no Shizuka.

You can find Napa cabbage in most grocery stores, but if not, I recommend visiting your local Asian store. It’s usually in the produce aisle, alongside other leafy greens and cabbages.

Find the Best Substitute for Napa Cabbage

Are you out of Napa cabbage? Or perhaps it’s not something you keep in your fridge. That’s okay! There’s no need for a last-minute trip to the store. The best substitute for Napa cabbage depends on what you’re cooking, and I am here to provide a rundown of each alternative to be sure you find the best-tasting option for your recipe.

1. Savoy Cabbage

A collection of savoy cabbages on a shelf.

Like Napa cabbage, savoy cabbage has a mild and slightly sweet taste, so it works well in stir-fries, soups, and salads.

How to Use It:

  • Braise
  • Grill
  • Soup and Stew
  • Stir-Fry
  • Pickle
  • Salad

2. Endives

Endives are a decent substitute for Napa cabbage. However, they have a strong and bitter taste compared to Napa cabbage, so I recommend using it only for braised or stir-fried dishes to reduce the bitterness. Plus, endives will absorb the flavor of the other ingredients.

How to Use It:

  • Braise
  • Stir-Fry

3. Green or Red Cabbage

A collection of green cabbages on a shelf.

Green and red cabbage are the most widely available options (at least here in the U.S.), and you can use them as a replacement for Napa cabbage.

Red and green cabbage have a similar flavor, but since the leaves are denser, I recommend cooking them longer in braised and stir-fried dishes. You can also use them as a substitute in salad and coleslaw recipes.

How to Use It:

  • Braise
  • Grill
  • Stir-Fry
  • Pickle
  • Salad

4. Pointed Cabbage

Pointed cabbage shares the same crunchy texture and mild flavor as Napa cabbage. And it is a jack-of-all-trades in the kitchen. Enjoy pointed cabbage raw in salads, pickle it, or add it to a stir-fry. You can also braise pointed cabbage, make sauerkraut, or toss it into soup or stew.

Just like Napa cabbage, it holds its shape while cooking, but since the leaves are slightly thinner than Napa cabbage leaves, they require less cooking time.

How to Use It:

  • Braise
  • Grill
  • Soup or Stew
  • Stir-Fry
  • Pickle
  • Salad

5. Bok Choy

Bok choy, also known as Chinese white cabbage, has a similar taste and texture, with tender leaves and crisp stalks. Use bok choy in stir-fries and soup, just like you would Napa cabbage.

How to Use It:

  • Braise
  • Grill
  • Stir-Fry
  • Soup and Stew
  • Pickle
  • Salad

6. Swiss Chard

Swiss chard has the same texture and a mild, earthy flavor. While it doesn’t have the same crunch as Napa cabbage, you can use it in soups and wraps like my vegetable-stuffed rainbow wrap.

How to Use It:

  • Braise
  • Stir-Fry
  • Soup and Stew
  • Wraps and Rolls

7. Kale

Kale has a bold flavor compared to Napa cabbage, and the leaves are more firm and dense. Still, kale is delicious in stew, stir-fry, and soup recipes, like my Zuppa Toscana Instant Pot copycat. However, kale requires a slightly longer cooking time to soften. If using kale in a salad, massage the leaves beforehand to make them more tender and similar to Napa cabbage.

How to Use It:

  • Soup and Stew

8. Choy Sum

Choy sum or yu choy is another Chinese cabbage that isn’t always available in the U.S. but has a similar texture, though I think it tastes more like broccoli. Like Napa cabbage, it is versatile in the kitchen, and you can use it to make stir fry, steam, or blanch it, and add it to your favorite soup and stew recipes.

The tender stems and delicate leaves cook quickly and retain their vibrant green color. For the best results and flavor, look for stalks that haven’t flowered yet.

How to Use It:

  • Braise
  • Grill
  • Soups and Stews
  • Stir-Fry
  • Salad

Other Substitutes for Napa Cabbage:

  • Taiwanese Cabbage 
  • Tatsoi
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Kohlrabi
A side profile of a Napa cabbage on a cutting board.

How to Use Napa Cabbage

Stir Fry

Enhance stir-fry recipes by adding thinly sliced Napa cabbage to the sizzling pan during the final stages of cooking to retain some of its crunchiness. If you don’t have Napa cabbage, all of the suggestions on the list will become tender as they stir fry, though some options may require longer or shorter cooking times.

Kimchi

Napa cabbage is the main ingredient in traditional Korean kimchi. Salt the leaves to draw water out of the cabbage. Pat the leaves dry, then coat them with a spicy paste made with gochugaru, garlic, ginger, and other seasonings. Let it ferment for a few days for deliciously homemade kimchi.

Savoy cabbage is the best substitute for Napa cabbage when preparing kimchi. However, green cabbage and bok choy also work.

Salad

Chefs and home cooks often use Napa cabbage as a base for salad and coleslaw. You can shred or chop the tender leaves and combine them with other vegetables, fruit, protein, and dressings.

When making a salad, pointed cabbage is my go-to Napa cabbage substitute, but you can also use Swiss chard, endives (if you don’t mind the strong flavor), and red or green cabbage like I use to make my vegetable chopped salad. You can also use kale, but I encourage you to massage the leaves to soften them before including them in a salad.

Soups and Stews

Cut or shred Napa cabbage into bite-sized pieces and add it to savory stews and soups (like hot pot). And if you’re looking for something other than Napa cabbage, all the options on this list are tasty alternatives. I tend to reach for green cabbage since it’s usually available, and it provides a tender, almost noodle-like texture in soups like hamburger vegetable soup.

Wraps and Rolls

Napa cabbage has large, pliable leaves, making it a perfect wrapper for rolls and wraps. Fill the leaves with cooked meat, vegetables, rice, and flavorful sauces. Then, roll the leaves tightly. Swiss chard and collard greens are the best options if you’re out of Napa cabbage.

Braised or Steamed Cabbage

Braise or steam Napa cabbage to retain its natural sweetness and flavor. You can cut them into wedges or large chunks and cook the cabbage in a flavorful broth or sauce until it becomes tender. Choy sum is my pick, but I have also tried red or green cabbage, pointed cabbage, and bok choy with good results.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Napa cabbage good for?

As you can see, Napa cabbage is a versatile vegetable in the kitchen. You can add it to stir-fry, braise it as a stand-alone side dish, or chop it and add it to salad or coleslaw. Feature Napa cabbage in kimchi recipes, include it in soup or stew, and the large leaves are ideal for making veggie wraps and rolls.

What does Napa cabbage taste like?

Napa cabbage has a mild, slightly sweet flavor. The leaves are tender and crisp, when eaten raw. And once it’s cooking, Napa cabbage becomes tender but retains some crispness.

What is the difference between Napa cabbage and regular cabbage?

Napa cabbage is a regular cabbage in some countries. But if you’re from the U.S. like me, green cabbage is the most common.

Napa cabbage has oblong, light green leaves that are tender and sweet, while regular cabbage has round or oval-shaped heads with darker green or purple leaves that are dense and slightly bitter.

Recipes like stir fry, kimchi, and salad feature Napa cabbage as a main ingredient. In contrast, many use regular green cabbage to make coleslaw, sauerkraut, and braised dishes.

Is Napa cabbage the same as Chinese cabbage?

Napa cabbage often goes by the name Chinese cabbage or celery cabbage, but they refer to the same vegetable.

More Kitchen Tips:

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