Hulk out with this purple and green cabbage stir fried with Thai fish sauce!

Why stick to one colour when you can have two shades of cabbage? – Pictures by CK Lim
Why stick to one colour when you can have two shades of cabbage? – Pictures by CK Lim

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 14 – What does the Incredible Hulk eat?

We know what makes mild-mannered Dr Bruce Banner transform into the green goliath. One of the Seven Deadly Sins, for sure. Wrath. Anger. Fury.

But what makes him change back to his softer, more pleasing side? Perhaps one of the Seven Deadly Sins also. My guess is Gluttony, for what better reason to shift into something more comfortable. Smaller digits with which to hold cutlery, for one.

What would Bruce Banner eat, though?

Given his alter ego’s predilection for green muscle and purple pants, I thought of a fine dish I enjoyed in Bangkok. The colours are correct – green and purple – but what could come in those colours, you ask?

'Ka lum plee pad nam pla' or stir fried cabbage in Thai fish sauce
'Ka lum plee pad nam pla' or stir fried cabbage in Thai fish sauce

Better known as ka lum plee pad nam pla in Thai, this is a simple dish of cabbage stir fried in nam pla or Thai fish sauce. There are some crushed garlic for aroma and a dash of ground white pepper before serving, to balance all the flavours, but little else.

How could something so simple be so good? Ah but the best things in life are often the simplest, you see.

Last weekend, when I made my sapphire sizzler, it was a trip down memory lane or some bustling soi in Bangkok’s Thonglor neighbourhood at least. Beyond the easy pleasures of a blue pea flower (dok anchan) herbal tea, I am reminded of how some of the tastiest Thai delicacies don’t require much embellishments.

Who could refuse the crunch of fresh-from-the-hot-oil gai tod (fried chicken) or the deeply satisfying contrasts of textures and flavours a plate of khao niao mamuang (mango with sticky rice) offers?

And so it is with the deceptively irresistible ka lum plee pad nam pla; I could eat it almost on its own, requiring only a bowl or two of hot steamed jasmine rice as accompaniment. It’s comfort food, this, Thai style.

Two of my favourite places to have it in Bangkok are Kaobahn, run by the brother of the National Thailand Brewer’s Cup 2016 Champion no less, and Kub Kao’ Kub Pla. It was at the latter that I discovered a Hulk-appropriate version of this dish.

The riddled contours of a purple cabbage sliced in half
The riddled contours of a purple cabbage sliced in half

For at Kub Kao’ Kub Pla, the cabbage comes in twin hues of green and purple, you see. The colours just pop and whet your appetite. Why stick with just plain old green cabbage when you can have half of it in glorious purple too?

Perhaps it’s understandable why Banner would hulk out from time to time. He’s just hangry. Wouldn’t you be in a foul mood too, if you’re famished and craving some ka lum plee pad nam pla but with no Thai restaurant in sight?

Now you may make it yourself in the comforts of your own home. No need to break out into green muscle and purple pants. Have some stir fried green and purple cabbage instead, redolent of fish sauce and all things simple yet good.

THAI STIR-FRIED CABBAGE WITH FISH SAUCE

Green cabbage we’re all familiar with, of course. The purple variety is actually known as red cabbage to most horticulturists but let’s be honest here: it’s purple.

The colour is important: the purple hue is derived from the presence of pigments from the family of anthocyanins (which gives açaí, raspberries and cherries their colour too). Low in calories, purple cabbage is believed to lower inflammation and promote heart health.

Washed cabbage leaves, drained and torn into bite-sized pieces by hand
Washed cabbage leaves, drained and torn into bite-sized pieces by hand

Despite the difference in colour, you can prepare both types of cabbages the same way: separate the leaves from the core and wash them thoroughly before tearing into bite sized pieces by hand. (You can chop them too but it won’t look as nice. Also, we believe they taste better hand-torn.)

Don’t be shy with the garlic; this dish benefits from its pungency
Don’t be shy with the garlic; this dish benefits from its pungency

The rest of the ingredients are quite straightforward: vegetable oil or any neutral oil so as not to distract from the aroma of the nam pla; the fish sauce offers a lovely umami flavour and by allowing to caramelise on the sides of the hot wok, we add more depth of flavour too; garlic for its redoubtable fragrance; and a dash of ground white pepper to balance the pungency of the garlic and the sweetness of the fish sauce caramelised cabbage.

Finally, speed is of the essence, which is great when you’re hungry (or Hulk level hangry) and want to eat quickly!

Ingredients

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or any neutral oil)

6-8 garlic cloves, crushed and coarsely chopped

½ small green cabbage, leaves torn into smaller pieces by hand

½ small purple cabbage, leaves torn into smaller pieces by hand

3 tablespoons nam pla (Thai fish sauce)

1 teaspoon ground white pepper

Method

Using a large wok, heat the vegetable oil over high heat. Wait till the oil shimmers and barely begins to smoke before adding the garlic. Hold the wok at angle and toss the garlic quickly to brown them without burning.

Once the garlic is fragrant and golden (not blackened), add both the purple and green cabbage., to ensure every cabbage leaf is lightly coated in oil and none of the garlic is burnt. This won’t take more than 30 seconds.

'Nam pla' or Thai fish sauce adds a caramelised flavour to the stir fried cabbage
'Nam pla' or Thai fish sauce adds a caramelised flavour to the stir fried cabbage

Next pour the fish sauce around the inner sides of the wok, allowing them to trickle down to the cabbage and steam. This allows the fish sauce to caramelise and add an extra layer of flavours to the cabbage.

Continue to toss and stir constantly until the cabbage leaves have softened and any extra liquid has evaporated. Season with the ground white pepper and give one last stir.

Remove from heat and transfer to a serving dish. Serve immediately while hot with some steamed jasmine rice.

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