Thai red curry seared cabbage Serves 2-3 as a single-dish meal; more as a part of a multi-dish meal
4 scallions, cut into ½-inch lengths, white and green parts separated 4 tablespoons Thai red curry paste (I like Mae Ploy brand; it's tasty but not very hot) 12 ounces cabbage, red or green (about ½ of a smallish head) 1 13.5-ounce can coconut milk (preferably Asian brands; be sure it's not sweetened coconut "cream") ½ teaspoon sugar 6 kaffir lime leaves, cut into chiffonade as thin as possible (optional, but you'll want it) 5 sprigs Thai basil, thick stems removed (optional) 2 tablespoons vegetable oil Fish sauce or salt, to taste
First cut your cabbage: If there are loose outer leaves, just peel them off and toss them. With a sharp knife, halve the head and take out the thick white core by making a V-shaped cut into the bottom of the head, removing the stem. Now, with the flat side down, cut the cabbage into ½-inch slices, give it a quarter-turn, and cut it into ½-inch dice.
If making the mushrooms: Heat the oil over medium heat in a large heavy saucepan or wok, something large enough to give you room to toss all that cabbage in. Cut the bunch of mushrooms off at the bottom of the stem to free them all (and to get rid of the dirt that's probably clinging to them). Turn the heat up to high, and when the oil is just smoking, add the mushrooms, preferably in one layer. (If you really can't reasonably call what you have "one layer," do this in batches.) Now don't touch them! Let them sizzle, shrivel, and brown, which will be quick. When they are the color of light caramel, toss and flip them in the oil and let them color all over. When they are a medium brown, remove the mushrooms, drain them on several layers of paper towel, and salt them generously. They won't really crisp, but they will be pleasantly chewy with a deep flavor.
Now make sure all your ingredients are cut to the appropriate sizes and ready to go; the cooking goes pretty quick. (This is a little weird, but give the curry paste a tiny taste. If it's painfully hot to you, go ahead and use less of it in the initial cooking; you can always stir in more later if you like.)
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil (or, if you've made the mushrooms, just pour off enough oil to leave 2 tablespoons in the pan) over high heat in a heavy saucepan, wok or a wide sauté pan, something big enough to let you toss all that cabbage. When the oil shimmers, add the white parts of the scallions, and roll them around a bit. When they just start to take on some color, add the curry paste and spread it out with a heat-proof spoon or spatula. Specks of it will want to jump around; don't mind them. Stir and flip the curry paste for a few seconds until it is fantastically fragrant and turning a deep brick red.
Add the cabbage, and stir and toss to distribute the curry paste through it evenly. Season with a few pinches of salt or dashes of fish sauce and toss, vigorously, until the cabbage begins to wilt. Add the coconut milk, sugar and kaffir lime leaves (if using), and scrape up any browned bits at the bottom of the pan. Bring it all to a boil, and turn down to a simmer.
Give it a taste! If you held back on the curry paste before, does it want more now? Maybe a little more salt or fish sauce to heighten the flavors? Is it too pungent or hot? You can help balance that somewhat by adding a little more sugar.
Let simmer until the cabbage is tender but with still a slight bit of resistance, a very soft crunch, and the sauce has thickened somewhat. Stir in the basil, let it wilt to unlock its fragrance, and serve over rice, garnishing with the fried mushrooms.