The Japanese LOVE cabbage (kyabetsu). It's most commonly served with tonkatsu, and my mother ALWAYS serves it with tempura.
The key is all in the preparation - you don't just cut up a bunch of cabbage and plop it on a plate. In Japan, the cabbage needs to be sliced as finely as possible, almost to a point where it looks like that great plasticky Easter grass we always wanted in our baskets as kids. In addition, there's a simple step that needs to be taken to get rid of that bitter, farty taste that raw cabbage can have. More on that later...
If you've got good knife skills, and your blade is REALLY sharp, you can do this with your knife. Me? I prefer to use my mandoline.
The best kind of mandoline out there is by far the Benriner. In Japanese, "benri" means "useful", which is pretty apt, because I seriously cannot function without my Benriner. Even though I have a REALLY nice food processor with several fancy slicing discs, I always go to the Benriner first.
Oh yeah, I bought mine at a local Asian market, but you can also find them at Amazon.
The Benriner has a molded plastic deck, with grooves (I assume for vegetable juices?). The main slicing blade comes attached. This blade can be removed via 2 plain screws underneath the deck, for cleaning or for sharpening. Personally, I always leave the blade attached.
To adjust the thickness of slices, the deck can be raised or lowered by turning a centralized plastic screw, allowing for fine-tuned adjustability. This screw can be removed for cleaning.
The Benriner also comes with 3 all-metal attachment blades. These blades are for julienne cutting and have various teeth sizes: fine, medium and coarse.
To attach these blades, simply slide the blade into a slot underneath the deck. Tighten into place using two plastic knobs, which can also be removed for cleaning.
Also included is a finger guard made of plastic. This is my only complaint about the Benriner. It's a bit awkward to use, but you definitely don't want to use the Benriner without it. The guard has little studs meant to grip whatever you're slicing, but it's not very secure.
The only other minor gripe with the Benriner is its size. Mine is the "standard" size, and the deck is too narrow to accomodate certain large fruits/vegetables (like potatoes), and I often have to cut cabbage down significantly to shred. You can purchase a "Jumbo Benriner" with a much wider deck, but it doesn't include the 3 julienne blades.
It comes with a pretty good manual though!
Now, back to the Japanese cabbage.
Pick a good head of green cabbage and remove any limp outer leaves.
Cut the cabbage in half, then cut each half in half. Remove the core.
Adjust the blade on your mandoline according to how thin you want your cabbage shreds. For this recipe, I like for the shreds to be as thin as possible. Set the mandoline over a cutting board or bowl.
Slide the flat side of a wedge of cabbage down the deck of the mandoline, passing over the blade. Start slow until you get comfortable with using the mandoline. Once the cabbage is almost fully sliced, attach the hand guard to protect your fingers. I've even used the handle of a wooden spoon to push food over the blade before (kind of like how a woodworker will use a scrap piece of wood to push another piece of wood through a table saw).
Once you've shredded all of the cabbage that you need, soak the cabbage in ice cold water for 30-45 minutes. This small trick helps get rid of any bitterness, and leaves the cabbage crisp and cold as well.
Drain the cabbage and pat as dry as possible. A salad spinner works GREAT for this.
Serve the cabbage in a small mound and dress with Kewpie mayonnaise, tonkatsu sauce or salad dressing. Just a little sprinkle of soy sauce is good, too!