Sunday, August 16, 2009

Thai Eggplant ‘Salad’

Could I just say that I like Thai food? I like it a lot. Good thing I live in the Twin Cities, where we are blessed with perhaps more than our fair share of great Thai restaurants. (No, New York City, you CANNOT have a single one of them. We need them all, thank you very much.)

Now, there are cuisines that are about complicated nuance. Thai isn’t one of them. Thai food is about FLAVOR and lots of it. Japanese food might be subtle, and French food might be art. But Thai is like the old Batman TV series. There’s a ton of fresh herbs, POW! And fish sauce, SOCK! And blisteringly fresh chiles, WHAM! A Thai dish doesn’t pull any punches. It’s a knock-down, drag-out good time that everyone can understand and enjoy. You better hope your mouth has room for all the deliciousness.

And there’s more to love about Thai than its candor: there’s also its accessibility, its freshness, and its immediacy. If you want to make food crammed with the best produce summer has to offer, then here’s something that will make your friends gasp.

That’s what my friends did this week when I served them this yam. The closest English word for yam is “salad,” but that falls far short. It’s more like a party, or an explosion, or everything you ever wanted to happen to you in terms of food. Serve it with just the lettuce leaves for an attention-getting bar snack. Or add thinly sliced cucumber and zucchini, cook up a pot of jasmine rice, and find some mango sorbet for dessert. Then you’ve got a pretty good meal.

Eggplant Salad
This recipe is adapted from Seductions of Rice: A Cookbook by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.

1.5 lb Japanese eggplants (the long thin purple kind)
½ c finely sliced shallots, separated into rings
½ c roughly chopped cilantro
¼ c chopped mint
6 T fresh lime juice
3 T Thai fish sauce
¼ t sugar
1 Thai chile, finely minced (more or less to taste)
1 head of soft lettuce, i.e. Bibb, separated into leaves

Diagonally slice the eggplant ¼ to ½ inch thick. Grill or broil the slices until golden brown on each side. Let them cool a bit, then chop coarsely and put in a large bowl. Add the shallots and herbs.

In a separate bowl, combine the juice, sauce, sugar, and chile. Pour onto the eggplant and toss. Set aside for a half hour or more so the eggplant can absorb the seasonings.

Serve the eggplant yam in a low bowl or on a plate accompanied by a plate of lettuce leaves (add thinly sliced vegetables if you like). Use the greens to scoop up a bite of yam.

Anyone know how to say “mangiamo” in Thai?

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