Napa Wedge Salad with Chickpeas and Bacon. Scott Suchman for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post

My spouse, Grace, used to drive to Hudson, N.Y., a full hour from our house, to get their hair cut. To make the trip extra worth it, Grace would time the appointments to bring home a roast chicken from Kitty’s Market, an adorable cafe near the train station there that makes sensational rotisserie chicken.

Kitty’s simple menu includes not much beyond that chicken and some side dishes, including potatoes roasted in the chicken fat (YUM) and a napa cabbage Caesar salad. As much as I looked forward to the chicken and potatoes, the cabbage salad was always the most surprising and delightful thing in our takeout order. I had never had napa cabbage swapped out for romaine lettuce in a Caesar salad before, and I quickly came to appreciate how sturdy and crisp it was, and how well the cabbage stood up to the assertive dressing.

That salad inspired me to think of napa cabbage not merely as something to make kimchi, a slaw or a stir-fry with, but as a worthy salad green. Today’s recipe for a hearty wedge salad showcases cabbage’s unrivaled versatility.

One thing I love about this recipe is a trick I borrowed from … myself. In “Now & Again,” a cookbook I published in 2018, I included a classic iceberg wedge salad recipe. To make it, I first thinly slice a shallot and let it marinate in a simple brine of vinegar, water, a pinch of sugar and a tiny bit of salt. This gives you two incredible things: quick-pickled shallots and a brine that becomes the base of a blue cheese dressing. You just have to whisk some mayo into the brine and stir in crumbled blue cheese. That’s it. That’s the dressing!

For this updated recipe, I swap in thinly sliced red onion for the shallot, because they’re more readily available. (But you can use a shallot if you prefer.) And instead of iceberg, we’ve got wedges of napa cabbage, which are sturdy enough for the creamy, rich dressing, plus extra toppings, including hot, crispy bacon and chickpeas warmed through in the bacon fat. I also include tomatoes for extra acidity and color.

And if you’d like, add more toppings, such as thinly sliced radishes, thinly sliced scallions, croutons, chopped parsley and/or pickled beets. You can swap turkey bacon for regular bacon or skip the meat all together. In the substitutions and tips below the recipe, I offer suggestions for how to add more flavor to the chickpeas sans bacon (as well as ideas for a vegan rendition of the salad).

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Whatever you do, give napa cabbage a chance. Its sturdiness and crunch make it, dare I say, a superior wedge.

Sturdy, crisp napa cabbage stands up well to an assertive dressing. Scott Suchman for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post

NAPA WEDGE SALAD WITH CHICKPEAS AND BACON

4 to 6 servings

Total time: 40 mins

This crunchy, satisfying wedge salad features napa cabbage instead of the traditional iceberg lettuce, as well as hot, crispy bacon and chickpeas for heartiness. The toppings include quick-pickled red onion and a creamy blue cheese dressing made with the onion pickling liquid.

Make ahead: The pickled onion and blue cheese dressing can be made and refrigerated separately for up to 4 days in advance.

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Storage: Refrigerate the cabbage wedges, dressing, onions and chickpea-bacon mixture separately for up to 4 days. Reheat the chickpeas and bacon in a skillet before serving, if desired.

 

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons water

1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar

pinch fine salt, plus more as needed

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1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion (may substitute 1 large shallot, thinly sliced)

8 ounces bacon, diced

1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added chickpeas, rinsed, drained and patted dry with a towel

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled blue cheese

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1 large napa cabbage (2 to 3 pounds), outer leaves discarded, cut lengthwise into thin wedges (see Notes)

1 pint (10 ounces) grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

 

In a small, shallow bowl, whisk together the vinegar, water, sugar and salt until the sugar and salt dissolve. Add the onion, stir to combine and let sit for at least 15 minutes to soften a bit, giving them a stir once or twice; or cover and refrigerate until needed.

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until nearly all of the fat is rendered and the bacon is almost crisp, 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the chickpeas, and continue to cook until the bacon is totally crisp and the chickpeas are warm, another 2 minutes.

While the bacon and chickpeas are cooking, drain the onions, capturing the pickling liquid in a medium bowl. Add the mayonnaise and pepper to the bowl, and whisk well to combine. Stir in the cheese, then taste and season with salt if needed. You should have about 1 cup of dressing.

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Divide the cabbage wedges among individual plates or arrange on a large serving platter. Evenly drizzle the dressing on the wedges, making sure you get plenty of blue cheese on each one. Divide the pickled onions and tomatoes among the wedges, and use a slotted spoon to evenly distribute the bacon and chickpeas across the salad. (Reserve any leftover bacon fat for another use.) Serve immediately.

Substitutions: If you can’t have pork >> use turkey bacon. If you’d prefer no meat >> just skip it, and instead warm a teaspoon of pimentón in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, and warm the chickpeas in that. Season them with salt and lemon juice before spooning on top of the salad. To make it vegan, follow the advice above for the chickpeas, use vegan mayonnaise and substitute a vegan blue cheese in place of the regular blue cheese (or just whisk the vegan mayonnaise together with the onion pickling liquid and call it a day). Can’t get your hands on a napa cabbage? Use romaine, iceberg or any crunchy lettuce.

Notes: To maintain neat wedges, trim as little as possible from the bottom of the head of cabbage, keeping most of the core intact. Slice all the way through the head, so each wedge includes a small piece of the core.

Nutrition per serving, based on 6: 327 calories, 19g carbohydrates, 29mg cholesterol, 24g fat, 5g fiber, 11g protein, 6g saturated fat, 524mg sodium, 4g sugar


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