I'd never understood the charm of chiifu, the pale Asian greens that are also known as tientsin, Chinese and napa cabbage. Sure, the stuff's cheap enough -- currently going for 29 cents a pound in Chinatown -- but what do you do with these 5-pound footballs? That's a lot of stir-fries. But mild napa cabbage is actually closer to iceberg lettuce in texture and taste then those bowling balls found in Western kitchens. And like that oft-mocked lettuce, napa lasts forever in the fridge. We're talking months. It's remarkably versatile, too. Parboil outer leaves, then stuff them with minced pork and rice intensified with garlic, ginger and water chestnut, or braise them alongside the Sunday roast. They're great added raw to a favourite salad. Plus, napa's fat- and cholesterol-free and high in vitamin C.
This easy Thai recipe for Pad Pak comes from Toronto authors Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's award-winning coffee-table-sized cookbook, Hot Sour Salty Sweet (Random House). In a wok over high, heat 2 tablespoons of peanut oil, swirling the oil to coat the wok. Add 2 smashed garlic cloves and stir-fry until golden. Add some veggies -- 1/2 pound napa cut into strips, 1/4 pound each of snowpeas and mushrooms -- and stir-fry until they start to soften, about 2 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon nam pla fish sauce, cover and cook another 2 minutes, stirring regularly. Mix in 1 tablespoon black bean sauce, then plate with a grind of black pepper and a sprinkle of fresh coriander leaves.