For many years, I had considered myself among the ranks of the eggplant-challenged. Unlike the rest of the summer garden patch, this weird fruit is complicated, yielding a seedy flesh that requires intellectual pursuit. You can't just boil up some eggplant or saute it in a pan and put dinner on the table. Oh, nooo.
It was a big day when I cooked up palatable eggplant, when she finally surrendered and let me be boss, yielding tender, flavorful morsels. With a renewed sense of confidence, I acquired a small stable of eggplant recipes, and I could now check her off my to-do list.
In spite of my newfound knowledge, I kept eggplant at arm's length and joined another club called "The Eggplant Reluctant." "What's the big deal?" I thought. There were so many other summery options giving me a lot less grief.
And then one day not too long ago, I discovered the Japanese eggplant, the stubborn purple globe's thinner, even prettier sister. She's manageable, plays nice with others and, get this, softens up like a charm. I discovered how easy it is to fall in love when she's curried in a seductive coconut-milk spice bath, and now I can't get enough of her.
Asiah's Eggplant Curry
Adapted from Cradle of Flavor by James Oseland
1 pound (about 4) Japanese eggplants, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into pieces, 2-3 inches long
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon tamarind pulp, plus 3 tablespoons very warm water to make extract
Peanut oil for frying
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced lengthwise
3 shallots (about 2 1/2 ounces), peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
1-5 fresh green Thai chilies, halved lengthwise and seeded (3 makes a medium-spicy result)
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 piece cinnamon stick, 3 inches
3/4 cup (about 4 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Place eggplant in a large bowl and add turmeric, massaging into eggplant until evenly coated. Set aside.
Place tamarind pulp in a small bowl and mix with warm water, allowing it to soften, 10-15 minutes. Squeeze softened pulp through your fingers, loosening it from sinew and seeds. Pour through a sieve; you will have a caramel-colored extract. Reserve liquid.
Pour about 1 inch of oil into a 3-quart pot or wok and place over medium-high heat until oil is 365 degrees. Fry eggplant in small batches until fleshy side turns golden, about 90 seconds. Eggplant should be just cooked and not at all soft or mushy. Using a slotted spoon, transfer eggplant to paper towels to drain.
Turn off heat. Let oil cool slightly, then pour off all but 2 tablespoons. Reheat pan over medium-low heat. Add garlic and shallots, cooking until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add chilies and spices. Saute, stirring spice paste to minimize scorching, about 3 minutes.
Add coconut milk and water; stir to combine over medium heat. Bring coconut milk to a lively simmer, then reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Stir in tamarind liquid, sugar and salt; simmer for about 15 minutes.
Add eggplant and cook until fork-tender, 1-2 minutes. Do not let it overcook and fall apart. Taste for salt; add accordingly.
Transfer to a bowl and serve slightly warm or at room temperature, with steamed rice. Makes 4 servings.
Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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