Growing up, most of my dinners at home were typical Chinese-Malaysian style homecooked meals – three to four meat, seafood and vegetable dishes all served with white rice. This kind of meal is better known as nasi melayu or nasi campur (both in Malay) but the reason I call it Chinese-Malaysian is that we’d usually have pork in at least one of the dishes! (And if you didn’t know, we eat that rice on a plate and use a fork and spoon, not chopsticks. And Malays would usually use their right hands to eat.) It actually took me a long time to realise that I don’t have to eat this way all the time – and anyway, it’s near impossible to cook two or three different dishes after a long day’s work and for just two people!

Sambal Aubergine

Once in a while though, I do like to make a bit of an effort and cook a meal that reminds me of home. One of the dishes that showed up often back then was either a prawn or squid sambal – the seafood is cooked in a thick chili based sauce with various aromatic ingredients. This kind of sambal is cooked though others that are uncooked exist (sambal belacan comes to mind) but both these kinds are totally different from the coconut sambals that one comes across in Indian cookery. Anyway, I have to admit that I didn’t appreciate how delicious this dish was as a child but it grew on me as I grew older too. However, I didn’t want to make that sambal…I wanted sambal aubergines (aka eggplant, brinjal, terung [in Malay]). Grilled or fried aubergines are topped with a sambal and it’s the combination of spicy sambal and silky aubergines that I just adore. If I see it offered as a dish for nasi campur, I will almost always choose it!

Normally, a sambal is made by pounding the chilies and the rest of the ingredients together but life can be made much easier by just using a mini-chopper or blender. It’s my still-new-to-me acquisition of a mini-chopper that triggered my making a sambal – I used to buy packets or bottles of the ready made stuff, which is still good in a pinch. This would usually be served as a vegetable dish alongside one or two other dishes, all to be eaten with white rice. If there are a lot of other dishes, half a small aubergine per person will do.

Sambal Aubergine

Sambal Aubergine
adapted from a recipe at Kuali
serves 2.

3 Japanese aubergines or 2 small/medium Italian aubergines
sunflower oil

For the sambal
2 shallots (4 if you’re using the little Asian purple ones)
3 cloves garlic
4 dried chilies
5 fresh large red chilies (use milder ones if you want it less spicy)
a few red birds eye chilies (optional – these are hot!)
2 tbsps dried shrimps
1 lime

2 tbsps sugar
1 tbsp fish sauce
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius. If using Japanese aubergines, slice each into half lengthwise; if using the Italian kind, slice each into three lengthwise. Lay the slices on a baking sheet, drizzle sunflower oil over each slice, flip and drizzle again. Roast in the oven until golden brown, flip and continue roasting until cooked through. You could also saute the slices in a frying pan until tender and golden brown. Sprinkle them lightly with salt and set aside until you’re ready to serve them.

Pour boiling water over the dried chilies and dried shrimps. Let them soak until rehydrated. Peel and chop the shallots and garlic roughly. Deseed all the chilies (including the rehydrated dried ones) and chop roughly. Mince the rehydrated dried shrimps. Place all these into a mini-chopper or blender, add the juice of the lime, and blend/chop well. You could also pound all of them together with a mortar and pestle.

Heat a frying pan over low heat and then add 3 tbsps oil. Fry the blended mixture for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is fragrant. Add the sugar, fish sauce and salt and continue frying until the mixture becomes thick.

To serve, plate the aubergine slices and spread a portion of the sambal on top of each slice.