We'll start with Thai vegetables, inspired by a new cookbook's introduction to the vegetable section.
"Please do not tell the good people of Thailand that vegetables are good for them. They have no idea. They only reason they eat vegetables is because they like them. They like the way vegetables taste and the way they look. They like the way vegetables crunch and exude coolness when raw, the way the soften and shine when put to the flame. ... So please do not tell Thai people that vegetables are good for them; that good food and vegetables live in different countries, separated by mountains too steep to climb. Let them keep eating their vegetables with pleasure and with abandon, all the time, every which way, five times a day."
And this eggplant salad is soooo packed with flavor. No one ingredient stands out; together they meld to create something entirely new and to me, anyway, in a way that's unusual without being 'weird'.
The recipe's introduction explains that this eggplant salad (yum makeua yao) is a wildly popular dish all over Southeast Asia, some times includes pork or fresh shrimp, and is often served with lettuce leaves for tidy little wraps. I can see why -- it's a keeper!
FISH SAUCE (NAHM PLAH)
The eggplant salad does rely on one essential ingredient that might take some searching out, fish sauce or nahm plah which is (apparently, remember I'm just learning myself, so make no claims to expertise) the 'essence' of Thai food. It's a deep, dark, bold and salty liquid made from salted anchovies. It's worth seeking out and for this particular dish, is essential to the taste. If you can't find it nearby, Amazon sells fish sauce.
The salad also calls for another unusual ingredient, dried shrimp, that the recipe says is optional and I agree. That said, it might be that dried shrimp has an effect like that of anchovies, creating a depth and complexity of flavor without standing out on its own.
Dried shrimp really stinks -- really really stinks. At my nearby international grocery, it's kept in an end-cap refrigerator behind glass and the odor still permeates that area. (Yay rah, Dried shrimp is sold on Amazon, too!) I'm storing it in the frig in a heavy glass jar, no odor problem!
Dried shrimp are very salty. I'm friendly with a check-out woman at the grocery; she advises that when dried shrimp are used with already-salty fish sauce, they should first be soaked in hot water, then drained. I also wanted to diffuse the strong flavor. The shrimp didn't mash well in a mortar and pestle didn't work, but did grind beautifully in a small food processor.
NEXT TIME I'll grill the eggplant, which I suspect will add a lovely smoky essence.
MOM, IT'S TOO SPICY Even with a tablespoon of fresh chillies, this salad had no 'heat'.
NUTRITION NOTES This salad has virtually no fat, only that used to mist the tray before roasting. All the flavor comes from that long list (for me) of ingredients -- though don't worry, the instructions are very short.
COCONUT & LIME
One of my favorite food blogs, Coconut & Lime, is celebrating its third birthday and has invited followers to post recipes that contain, surprise, coconut and lime. Happy Blog Birthday, Rachel!
FROM THE ARCHIVES Eggplant recipes are a favorite search here on A Veggie Venture, all in the Recipe Box.
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THAI ROASTED EGGPLANT SALAD
Time to table: 60 minutes
Olive oil to mist
1 1/2 pounds eggplant, preferably the long slender Asian eggplant (that won't likely require peeling, though mine did today) or the larger globe eggplant
1 tablespoon dried shrimp, optional
2 tablespoons shallot, chopped thin (I replaced this and the green onion with 1/4 a white onion, chopped)
2 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon garlic
1 tablespoon fresh hot chilies (I used a finger chili), trimmed, seeds and membrane removed, chopped fine
1 tablespoon unsweetened coconut
3 tablespoons fish sauce
Zest of 1 lime (my addition)
3 tablespoons lime juice (about 2 limes)
1 tablespoon sugar (I used chopped palm sugar and think brown sugar would be some better than white)
2 tablespoons chopped roasted salted peanuts (I skipped this)
Additional coconut and cilantro for garnish
EGGPLANT Set oven to 400F or heat grill. Mist a baking sheet with olive oil. Trim stem ends and (for ASIAN) cut in half lengthwise or (for GLOBE) in quarters lengthswise. Place cut-side down and roast or grill til golden, about 25 minutes. When cool, decide whether skins are tough and should be removed. Chop into pieces.
DRIED SHRIMP Cover with hot water while prepping salad, then drain. Chop finely or run through food processor.
MEANWHILE Collect the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl. Add the cooked eggplant and shrimp. Garnish and serve at room temperature or chilled.