You know those nights when you get home and realise you’ve got a stupidly incongruous collection of ingredients from which to construct a meal, but the stars align and by pure chance (skill?) you put together a Michelin-worthy dish? Although it generally ends in pain (eating enough for three grown men) and shame (scoffing the leftovers for breakfast and realising you now have nothing for lunch), it’s a wonderful ego boost.
Last night, my key ingredient was half a red cabbage. It cost 60p at the market last week and really needed to be used. By chance, I had some Thai basil (the more assertive, aniseedy cousin of the Italian variety) I’d used in a jungle curry on the weekend. In the freezer were some scotch bonnet chillies, and a lump of smoked bacon which I’d previously discovered needed to be used sparingly when stir-frying, as its saltiness was a tad overpowering. I thought I’d better cook the cabbage to cut its bitterness – the thought of a bowl of shredded red cabbage didn’t really turn me on. Given the basil, I thought a Vietnamese-inspired stir-fry might be a goer, to add to the freezer/cupboard staples of chilli, garlic, soy and fish sauce.
Half a red cabbage, shredded
2/3 cup raw bacon, sliced into small pieces
3 garlic cloves, slices
½ scotch bonnet chilli (or 1 birds eye chilli), chopped
1 lime, juiced (I used a lemon, but lime is more authentic)
½ cup Thai basil leaves, torn (don’t chop them with a knife – it really makes a difference)
1. Heat splash of oil to a wok on high heat, add bacon and toss quickly for like 15 seconds (don’t cook through or brown)
2. Add garlic and cabbage and stir fry with bacon
3. Add chilli (usually I’d add this first thing but it will completely overpower the cabbage if you do… not to mention fumigate your kitchen like capsicum spray)
4. The bacon will contribute the saltiness you’d usually get from soy and/or fish sauce, so just add a TINY bit of both for flavour (like, a teaspoon of fish and a tablespoon of soy).
5. Add lime juice – the sourness will help cut the saltiness. A good stir-frying tip is to pour liquids down the side of the wok instead of on top, so they add flavour from the bottom up (at boiling temperature), rather than just stewing the ingredients on top.
6. When the cabbage is stir-fry “al dente” texture (e.g. not raw but not soggy – you know what I mean), toss in the basil leaves and remove from heat
Ordinarily this would feed two famished people or three people with normal appetites. I think it would make a nice partner to a fried noodle dish, or something with some serious carbs - maybe a pad thai? Speaking of pad thai, I found an awesomely informative post on Chez Pim that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about cooking the classic Thai dish.
* Three weeks in Thailand and the one word I learnt was 'aroi' - "DELICIOUS!". Clearly I was a HIT at every restaurant I patronised...