Thursday, March 15, 2012

VEGETABLES 0F BRAZIL - Acelga (Napa Cabbage)

Although Asian greens, such as bok choy and gai lan, are not commonly eaten in Brazil outside the Asian communities of São Paulo's Liberdade district, one Asian form of cabbage has become a supermarket standard in Brazil, available all year round in most supermarkets in all regions of the country. Brassica rapa subsp. pekinensis, known variously in English as Chinese cabbage, Napa cabbage and Chinese Leaf, is called acelga in Brazil, and under that name has made its way into many Brazilian vegetable and salad recipes. (Incidentally, the English name Napa has nothing to do with the California wine-growing district. Napa comes from colloquial Japanese nappa (菜っ葉), which means any edible leaf.)

Napa cabbage is a staple in most East Asian cuisines, and in one of its most well-loved incarnations is the prime ingredient in Korean kim-chee, the spicy fermented cabbage pickle without which Korean cuisine wouldn't exist. We've not found any source that explains how this Asian vegetable made its way to Brazil, but it would be logical that it arrived with the wave of Japanese immigrants to came to Brazil in the early 20th century to work in Brazil's coffee plantations.

Brazilian dictionaries and the Portuguese-language version of Wikipedia define acelga as chard, not Napa cabbage, but we've never seen true chard, which is a member of the beet family not a cabbage, in a Brazilian supermarket or farmers market under any name. Perhaps in Portugal acelga refers to the plant called chard in English, but in Brazil the word is restricted to Napa cabbage.

Brazilians really don't use the Asian cooking technique called stir-frying, and woks don't exist in this country - again, outside Asian communities. Acelga is more often a feature of Brazilian salad recipes, and the thin, light leaves of the plant are very suited to eating raw, unlike some other Asian greens which need to be cooked before eating.

We'll feature some Brazilian recipes for acelga in the next few posts. Under it's various English monikers, this green is easy to find in North American and European supermarkets in larger metropolitan areas, and in Asian groceries in cities that have Asian immigrant communities. Salads made with this green are light, refreshing and nutritious and serving a salad with Napa cabbage can elevate the day-to-day salad to something new and exotic.

1 comment:

  1. Woks are not very common in home kitchens but every "pastelaria" uses one. Naturally that's the oriental influence since, at least in Sao Paulo, good "pasteleiros" tend to be of Japanese descent.