More healthy eating before I get onto the total shameless gluttony that occurred in Hong Kong. This time it’s with one of my favourite vegetables, the ever versatile aubergine. I love the flavour one gets when burning an aubergine…burning may be too harsh a word. Essentially it’s cooking a whole aubergine until its skin is charred and the entire thing is soft. The silky, uncharred flesh inside develops a smokiness that is particularly good in salads.

Vietnamese Aubergine Salad

I came across this aubergine salad in Mai Pham’s excellent cookbook Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table and had to try what appeared to be an extremely simple recipe (adapted to feed the two of us). It’s certainly a dish that’s more than the sum of its grand total of five ingredients (four if you don’t include salt). The silky vegetable gets coated in a savoury mixture of spring onion and fish sauce and somehow just pulls together into something you can’t stop scoffing. Good stuff.

Dinner

This salad ended up being part of a meal we ate with white rice, long beans fried with egg and leftover curry.

Vietnamese Aubergine Salad
serves 2-3 as a course with rice.

3 large, long Asian aubergines
1.5 tbsp sunflower oil
1 large spring onion, thinly sliced
0.5 tbsp fish sauce
a pinch of salt

Grill your aubergines until their skins are black – I whack them onto our gas stove and char them. You can also throw them into a very hot oven or better yet, under the grill. You want the skins to be black and the insides all soft. Leave until cool enough to handle.

When cool enough to handle, peel the blackened skins off and cut each aubergine into lengths of about 5-6 cm and cut each length into 4-6 strips (depending on how you like your aubergine pieces).

Heat a small frying pan (or any frying pan really) and add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the spring onion and stir until wilted. Take off the heat and stir in the fish sauce and salt. Toss this dressing with the aubergine strips.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

I came across another Filipino dish that I wanted to try recently, tortang talong, aubergine omelette. Ingredient-wise, it’s very simple but the method means it’s not something you can knock together in 5 minutes. Well, you could probably cook it in about 20 minutes!

Tortang Talong

I made the most basic of tortang talongs, with just aubergine and egg, and it was lovely in all its simplicity. Onions, tomatoes and other vegetables, all finely chopped, are also common additions. Minced pork is also commonly added, making it something you could just eat by itself with rice. If adding any of these, I would fry them separately and mix them with the egg, patting the filling onto the aubergine when frying.

Grilled and Flattened Aubergine

What other Filipino dishes would you recommend?

Tortang Talong
serves 2 as a dish in an Asian meal.

2 medium-sized long aubergines
1 large egg
salt
oil

Grill the aubergines over an open flame until soft but not mushy. If you have not got a gas stove, you can put them under a grill in they oven too. The skin should be black. Let cool and peel off the skins, keeping the flesh and the stem intact. With a fork, flatten the flesh so you’ve formed aubergine fans, still keeping the stems on.

In a shallow bowl, beat the egg with a little salt.

Heat a frying pan oven medium heat and when hot, add about 1 tbsp of oil. Using the stem of the aubergine as a handle, dip the flesh of the aubergine into the egg, turning to coat both sides. Lay the eggy aubergine fan into the frying pan. Repeat with the other aubergine, laying it next to the first in the pan. Pour over the rest of the egg onto the aubergines in the pan, taking care to keep them separate. Cook on each side for a few minutes, until both sides are golden brown.

Serve with rice, possibly with other Asian dishes too. I read that ketchup is commonly eaten with tortang talong but I had mine with chilli sauce.

Growing up in Vancouver, I had a number of Persian friends, the Persian community being quite strong there. I even remember my first real taste of Persian food – one good friend booked a Persian restaurant for her birthday and we ended the night on the dancefloor with that night’s belly dancer. I remember starting with a salty crumbly cheese with herbs and then continuing with grilled meats served with fluffy basmati rice. That was the first time I tried this cuisine and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Later my family would discover lavash bakeries and even more grilled meats and the luxury of letting a huge pat of butter melt into one’s rice and sumptuous grilled tomatoes. Strangely, it wasn’t until I got to London though that I finally dipped my toes (not literally!) into Persian stews, of which there seems to be hundreds of types.

This stew is one of my favourites, with its slight tang from the dried limes and the lush texture of the aubergines. There are a number of recipes online – all of them different, of course, and I’m sure the number of recipes would continue to increase if I was to survey a number of Iranian families too. Everyone seems to have their own version and here is mine. I used beef (its use seems to be more common in North America) but you can use lamb too (more common here). It isn’t the prettiest of stews (well, you could arrange the aubergines to look very nice on top) but it is definitely tasty!

Khoresht Bademjan on Rice

Khoresht Bademjan
serves 3.

10 baby aubergines (the long Asian kind)
1 large onion, chopped
500g beef or lamb, cut into chunks
olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-1/2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
2 tbsps tomato paste
1 tsp turmeric
3 small dried limes
large pinch sugar
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a baking tray with tinfoil and brush the foil with a little olive oil. Clean and trim the stems off the aubergines and then cut them into quarters lengthwise. Place them skin side down on the baking tray and brush liberally with oil. Roast for about 15-20 minutes until they are soft. Set aside.

Place a pot over medium-low heat and when hot, add a good coating of olive oil to the bottom. Add the chopped onion and cook until soft and transparent. Add the beef or lamb, turn the heat up to medium and fry until browned. Add the garlic and continue cooking for a minute or two. Then add the tomatoes, tomato paste, turmeric, and about 1-1/2 cups water (add more if needed to cover the meat) and bring to a boil. Pierce the limes here and there (you’ll need a strong skewer) and add to the pot too. Lower the heat to bring the pot to a simmer and simmer half covered for an hour.

After the hour is up, the meat should be tender but continue cooking if it isn’t so. Add the sugar if required (to balance the sourness). Add the cooked sliced aubergine, stir through and cook until the aubergines are all heated through. Discard the dried limes and serve the stew on basmati rice.

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.

I just had to share this amazing sweet and sour aubergine we had a couple weeks ago at our local Sichuan restaurant. There were a few new additions to their menu and this was one of them.

Sweet and Sour Aubergine

It was a huge aubergine (eggplant) sliced like a giant Hasselback potato then dipped in batter and deep fried. After plating, a spicy sweet and sour sauce with pork was poured over.

Sweet and Sour Aubergine Closeup

The amount of oil required to deep fry the whole aubergine really scares me but the taste was so amazing! The sauce was the closest thing to General Tso’s sauce I’ve had in the UK – it was sweet and tart with the vinegar and had some chili in it. The sauce is something I hope to replicate at home; I’ll pass on the deep frying!

Sichuan Restaurant
116 Churchfield Road
Acton
London W3 6BY