I know what you’re thinking. Where on earth has ze chef vanished? Why hasn’t he written anything in so long? Has he run out of steam?
The answer to that last question, dear reader, is, er, yes, I was indeed running out of steam. ‘Tis the season to be jolly for you folks, but for those of us who work in the hospitality business, it’s peak season, which means we’re working harder than ever. Alas, I’m not at my creative best when the workload is so much.
Nevertheless I decided to post this Indonesian eggplant (aubergine) recipe because it’s simple, it’s tasty, and it doesn’t require any exotic ingredients. If that’s not enough, a fringe benefit of this recipe is that the chilli sauce can be used as a tasty dip for a whole lot of things. Even if you don’t like eggplant, the tangy sauce is still useful. What’s more, once the sauce is made, the dish is 5 minutes away from being done.
For most of my life, I hated eggplant, probably because the only way I had it was an overcooked pulpy mess known in India as baingan ka bharta. Only recently did I try some well-cooked eggplant and I converted. It reminds me of my hatred of mushrooms till I was 15. Ah, the scars left by early culinary experiences don’t always heal quickly. Better late than never, I suppose.
What you need
Eggplant (aubergine): One medium-size
Light soy sauce: 2 tsp
Sesame oil: 1/4 tsp
Sugar: 1/2 tsp
Vegetable oil – 1 tbsp
Basil leaves: 1/2 a handful (optional)
Fresh tomatoes – chopped – 1 tbsp or so
Chilli sauce ingredients
Purple shallots – chopped – 1 tbsp
Garlic – minced – 1 tbsp
Fresh red chillies – 1 tbsp (or use 2 tsp of hot red chilli paste)
Vegetable oil – 2 tbsp
Tomato puree – 1 tbsp
Dried shrimp – 1/2 tsp (optional)
Salt – 1/2 tsp
Sugar – 1 tsp
Lime juice – 2-3 tsp
How to make it
Cut the eggplant into 1/2 cm thick slices. Rub with the light soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar. Leave it to marinate while you prepare the sauce.
For the sauce, put the shallots, garlic, chillies, dried shrimp (if using) and 1/2 tsp of the oil into a blender and make a paste.
Heat a frying pan over medium heat. When it’s hot enough, add the oil. Wait for it to turn hot enough (till a small piece of garlic sizzles merrily without burning). Then add the paste you’ve just made.
Fry the paste on medium heat for about 5 minutes till the oil starts separating from the paste. If this doesn’t happen in 5 minutes, add 2 tsp water to the mix. Now add the sugar and salt and cook for another minute.
Add the tomato puree (or use finely chopped fresh tomato) to the paste along with a tablespoon of water and let it cook for another 3 minutes.
Take the paste off the heat and empty it to a bowl. Now add the lime juice, half first and then gently adding the rest depending on taste. Keep checking the taste. The sourness of the lime and the sweet flavour of the tomato must be in the lead, with chilli coming in later. Sooner or later, you will hit a “sweet spot” with the lime juice. Don’t add any more after this.
Right, so let’s cook our eggplant now. Get a skillet or shallow frying pan out, heat it, and the add the 1 tbsp vegetable oil. Move the pan around so the oil spreads all over the surface. Now add the eggplant slices and start pan-frying them. Cook them for about 3 minutes on one side, then flip and cook for another 3-4 minutes on the other side. There, it’s pretty much done.
Take a nice pretty plate and spread about two teaspoons of the chilli sauce all over it. Then arrange the eggplant on the plate as you see in my picture. Liberally rub the remaining chilli sauce all over the eggplant. Remember the basil in the recipe? You can either chop it up fine and scatter it across the eggplant, or deep-fry it first and then do the same thing. Now scatter the remaining chopped tomatoes over the dish.
You’re done, baby! A nice tasty vegetarian eggplant dish for you. Before you eat it, make sure you dip a french fry into the chilli sauce and taste it. You’ll want to make more of the sauce.
A dish as simple as this should be easy for anyone to make, but I still expect that some people won’t be able to find some ingredients. No matter. Ze Chef can fix that. Let’s see… don’t have soy sauce and sesame oil? Fine, use salt and olive oil instead. The flavour will be different, but still good. Can’t find fresh red chillies? Substitute with sweet red peppers and 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper instead.
If you want a non-vegetarian version of this, try it with fish fillets. Rub fish fillets with salt and pepper, then deep-fry them. Toss them in the sauce. Now you’ve got Ikan Goreng Cili, a Malaysian fish dish. :)
The sesame oil and basil leaves are my own improvisation, but I like it better that way.