There is a Thai restaurant in my neighborhood called Penny’s that Sean and I order noodles from every week. I almost always get the same thing, even though I routinely panic and launch into a little internal dialogue whenever I call them.
Maybe I should get something different this time! The BBQ pork noodles sound good! Or maybe the Thai fried rice?
“Hello, Penny’s Noodles! How can I help you?”
Nope, can’t do it.
“Hi! Order for delivery. Hot pepper noodles with tofu and a side of stir fried cabbage and tomato, please.”
Maybe next time.
The reason I have such a hard time ordering anything else is that those two dishes always deliver what I consider to be my essential daily flavor fixes: spicy and savory.
Take their beguiling stir fried cabbage and tomato. Slightly charred cabbage is cooked briefly with chopped tomato, a heavy sprinkling of black pepper, soy sauce, a drizzle of fish sauce, sesame oil and beef broth (I think). It has a flavor almost reminiscent of grilled beef, which I imagine comes from cooking it in a hot wok where lots of other glorious meaty things have been cooked as well. It is always impossibly hot when it arrives, swimming in that savory, fragrant liquid.
Since I don’t have a wok, I cooked everything in a cast iron skillet. I let the cabbage soften and caramelize with a sprinkling of sugar before tossing in the tomatoes, a dash of fish sauce, soy, black pepper, rice vinegar and beef broth. I finished the dish with a thin drizzling of sesame oil, then immediately began slurping it out of the skillet with chopsticks and a large spoon, burning my tongue in the process.
Stir fried cabbage and tomato
adapted from Penny’s Noodle Shop, Chicago
1 very small or 1/2 medium head cabbage, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 cups chopped tomatoes (any kind works–I used cherry tomatoes here)
1-2 teaspoons fish sauce, depending on your preference
1/4 cup soy sauce
15 or 20 grinds black pepper
1/2 teaspoon rice vinegar
1/3 cup low-sodium, organic beef broth
Sesame oil, for drizzling
Method: Heat 1-2 teaspoons of vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet or wok over medium high. Add the cabbage and sugar and cook, tossing occasionally, until it has softened and started to caramelize, about 5 minutes.
Toss in the tomatoes, fish sauce, soy, pepper, vinegar and beef broth. Cook for about 3 minutes, to soften the tomatoes and meld the flavors. Drizzle very lightly with sesame oil, and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Check the seasoning and adjust as needed.
Serve in deep bowls and be sure to spoon some of that lovely liquid over the top for guests to slurp.
Serves 4 as a side dish.