Eggplant is more than just a vehicle for tomato sauce and cheese. In this recipe from Vietnamese Food Any Day: Simple Recipes for True, Fresh Flavors, author Andrea Nguyen takes the meaty nightshade and transforms it into a Vietnamese classic called cà tím nướng mỡ hành, or grilled eggplant with green onion oil.
The dish consists of roasted eggplant (nutritious skin included!) that is served with a green onion oil and a dipping sauce made with vegan fish sauce and garlic. “When I learned that eggplant skin is loaded with antioxidants, I began thinking about how I could tweak the popular side dish to retain the skin,” Nguyen explained in her cookbook. “Surprisingly, microwaving the entire eggplant proved to be the best way to effortlessly and evenly cook the purple orbs to a wonderful plush texture and sweet flavor. The skin is chewy-tender, and very pleasant to eat.”
In this dish, the hearty fruit gets a “delicate sweet smokiness” from a green onion topping that includes garlic, vegan fish sauce, and Spanish smoked paprika.
Andrea Nguyen's Eggplant with Smoky Green Onion Oil
1 medium eggplant
- 2 1/2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
2 garlic cloves,
vegan fish sauce, or sub with 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1/3 cup thinly sliced green onion, green and white parts
- Fine sea salt, to taste
Peel off the pointy flaps of the eggplant cap but leave the stem intact. Then, using a fork, poke the eggplant twelve to sixteen times all over.
Put the eggplant on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high for about six minutes, until soft, a bit deflated looking, and cooked through (poke a knife into the thickest part). If you’re unsure, cook for another minute or so.
Let the eggplant sit at room temperature for 5 minutes, or until cool enough to handle.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the canola oil and smoked paprika.
After 3 to 4 minutes, when the oil is fragrant, hot, and a deep orange color, add the garlic and vegan fish sauce (or soy sauce).
Let bubble and sizzle for roughly 10 seconds to combine and lightly cook the garlic, then add the green onion, stir, and, when softened (another 10 seconds), remove from the heat.
Let cool for a few minutes before tasting; if needed, add salt, a pinch at a time, to obtain a robust, savory finish. Set the sauce aside.
Trim the stem end of the eggplant and cut the eggplant lengthwise into slices, each a good 1/2 inch thick. Cut each slice lengthwise into long spears as wide as your thumb. Leave as dramatic spears, or cut them crosswise to more easily maneuver.
Transfer the spears to a serving plate, leaving behind the goopy liquid that the eggplant naturally releases. Top the eggplant spears with the sauce.
At the table, gently mix the eggplant and sauce to combine the flavors, and serve.
Select eggplants that feel solid and heavy. The skin should be smooth, glossy, and mostly blemish-free. Instead of one medium eggplant (visualize a softball with a baseball on top), use two 10-ounce ones (a tennis ball topped by a racquetball). The microwave and steam cooking times (following) are roughly the same for both sizes. Regular grocery store eggplants are called for here, but try other kinds, such as slender Chinese eggplants; you need roughly one pound total. Summer is peak eggplant season.
You can cook the eggplant and sauce up to 2 days in advance, cover, and refrigerate. Return to room temperature before using; drain and warm the eggplant slightly before serving.
To steam an eggplant, trim off the stem, then cut the eggplant lengthwise into pieces a good ½ inch thick. In batches, cut-side down, steam in a basket or rack set over boiling water for about 12 minutes, until soft and cooked through. Add water to the pot as needed.
Additional eggplant recipes
Ready for some more eggplant-centric recipes in your life? Try this recipe for Southern-Fried Catfish Made With Eggplant.
Recipe reprinted with permission from Vietnamese Food Any Day: Simple Recipes for True, Fresh Flavors by Andrea Nguyen, copyright © 2019. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
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