Black Beauty

January 18, 2012

Why is the taste of smoke so appealing, do you think?

I love all smoky-flavoured things. Bacon, of course, and you may remember my joy a little while back at discovering the amazing smoky power of the chipotle chilli (which I shall be running to very frequently during Senor’s & my forthcoming vegetarian experiment for February – more on that later).  And smoked fish, too, is a thing of beauty.

But it was my dear pal Steph, aka the Empress of the Chickpea, who introduced me to the wonders of deeply charred eggplant and the big whack of flavour that results. She taught me to burn eggplants into blackened oblivion to get the best baba ghanoush, and it was she who gave me this recipe for a gorgeous Asian minced pork salad ages ago. I just found it among my emails yesterday and the memory of it got my mouth watering, so I set to with the barbecue. Lordy it was good.

I find it easiest to char the eggplants on the barbecue, but if you have a gas hob you can almost as easily (though rather more smokily) blacken them directly on the flame, turning regularly to get the things good and papery and burnt all over. During this time – when you may find the scorching stalks smell remarkably like a smoking joint! – the flesh softens and softens, turning into the fabulously velvety, smoky stuff that makes me swoon.

I have rambled here in the past about my love of eggplant in general … the fresh ones are so aesthetically appealing in their squeaky, glossy purple bulbousness, and that stunning white  of the flesh when you cut them open. But the charred babies have a different but equally stunning beauty, I think. Once the blackened parchment of the skin is removed, with the fruit’s stalk still attached, the flesh spreads out into this raggedly beautiful flare, like a dirty ballerina’s skirt. Is it weird of me, to think that I could look at this all day?

But enough hyperbole, lest I start to sound like Nigella Lawson (please, please tell me if that ever happens, and then tape my mouth shut – or break my fingers). Here’s the recipe, as provided by the Empress, who I believe adapted it from a Madhur Jaffrey version.

I used two medium eggplants which were heavier than 220g each by a long way, and I used double the pork mince because that’s the amount I had in the freezer (from Feather & Bone, natch, so it was deeeeeliciously full of free-range fat and flavour),  and I used only half the chilli because we are wimps, but otherwise the sauce quantities stayed the same. Oh and I used a bit of leek because I didn’t have any green onion. Despite all this bastardisation it was unbelievably good.

Smoky aubergines in a lime sauce (with pork) – adapted from Madhur Jaffrey

  • 2 eggplants each 220g
  • 4 tablsp fish sauce seasoned w lime juice (see below)
  • 1 med onion
  • 1 green onion
  • 1 tbs veg oil
  • 100g lean minced pork
  • Salt & pepper

Leave eggplants whole, including tops. Prick lightly w fork to prevent bursting. Barbecue til black with soft guts. Cool then carefully peel skin off. If eggplant falls apart a bit just push it back into shape on the serving platter.

Make sauce:

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 4 tbs fish sauce
  • 4 tbs lime juice
  • 3 tbs sugar
  • 3-4 small red or green chillis

Dissolve sugar in 4 tbs hot water from kettle or in micky. Add all the other liquids to that as well as all solids, finely chopped.

Heat oil in wok, throw in onion. Stir once then add pork, salt and lashings o pepper. Stir and fry for about 5 mins to cook meat, breaking up lumps as you go. Stir through green onion. Spread pork mixture over eggplants then top with sauce.

Steph’s note: “MJ reckons this serves 4, I reckon 2, catering for one slim eggplant per person. You ‘ll probably have sauce left over too which is yummy slopped over any Asian salady thing.”

So in the one I made, a larger amount still served 2 greedy people for dinner, with just enough leftover for one lunch.

Mine. Right now. Ciao.


  1. Hi Charlotte,
    I know that was a rhetorical question but I reckon it might be an ancestral taste memory that stretches right back through flitches of bacon hung in chimneys and preserving food through smoking, right back to the first ancestor who thought, hey, I wonder what would happen if we throw that mastodon on the fire? Lovely recipe, btw. Got to try that one next time I’ve got some good coals happening.

  2. Delicioso! I am definitely making this.Is that coriander I spy on the top?

    Such a great rib-sticking vegetable – sometimes unappreciated by those who stew it till flabby or fried where it soaks up more oil than any surface known to man (barring a penguin, sorry fellas).

    It might belong to the vego Addams family- the Deadly Nightshades – but I don’t care.

    Look forward to hearing the low moans brought about by the Absence of Bacon in February.

    • You will be hearing ALLLL about the absence of bacon, believe me. You will probably hear the shrieks of despair across the city ……

  3. I adore eggplant. I quite often cook thinnish slices in my cafe press and leave them with the lid down until ready and they are melt-in-the -mouth!

    I have made chilli chocolate truffles for my son’s birthday a couple of times and I find the rich depth of ground chipotle works best in the ganache filling. It’s not as harsh as cayenne for instance.

    I guess at a pinch in other recipes smoked paprika could stand in for chipotle, but that will probably shock all the Mexican purists.

  4. I reckon its virtually primeval: our far off ancestors sat around camp fires charring their dinner: the scent is as intoxicating now as it was then. Tribal memory and all that!

  5. Sorry, can’t comment, too busy wiping the drool off the keyboard…

    Too many of my favourite things in one dish here… (and Nigella Lawson would never come up with so great a simile as a dirty ballerina’s skirt. She’s always struck me as too busy unzipping her own – does this woman actually cook or does she just heave?)

  6. I am obsessed with eggplant. Not being a pork eater (though will happily munch on cured piggy bits) I will try this with chicken mince…

    • I can’t do eggplant – I have a bit of an allergy to it (mouth and lips burn and swell) is there any remedy for that, or do I continue to avoid?

  7. ooh what a good lot of comments. I agree about the primitive ancestral fires, Louise & Diana. It’s why camping is so much fun, right? And why camping under fire bans is so not fun.

    Reemski, it would be just as good with chicken. Lordy I am hungry thinking about it again… and Diana, what a shame re eggplant. I think I have occasionally had a similar reaction – is it a nightshade thing, or just eggplant? My nephew actually once had a virtually life-threatening anaphylactic attack after eating eggplant so it can be pretty serious! Please don’t cook this! But I’d be interested in hearing more from others about what the story is with allergy and aubergine …

    Sally – what a cool idea the flattened sandwich pressed slices are. And blimey – that choc chilli sounds incredible.

    Ms Doctordi thanks re the dirty ballerina – I will zip my mouth now about Nigella because I have upset people before with my aversion to her and one of my new year’s resolutions is Be More Nice.


    • Oh and YES, miss Julie – it is coriander. I forgot to mention that as just chucked it on at the last minute …

  8. Just made Black Beauty with these suggestions: if you prep the eggplant the day before, you’ll find its oil has oozed out overnight onto the plate. I drained this off and incorporated it into the dressing, as it added a lovely liquid smokiness.
    Also added a drop of sesame oil for nuttiness and some toasted sesame seeds as a garnish. Instead of melting sugar for dressing I used maple syrup which I think gives a rich, caramel flavour. When I was in Canada I saw a good chef use it in salad dressings and have done so ever since.

    For a lunch I paired BB with an asian slaw made with a similar dressing (minus eggplant juice) topped with smoked trout, viet mint and those fried onions you can buy in asian shops for crunch.



  9. I realise it may be a bit late to comment on this post but you must, must, must try this eggplant recipe – pachardi – which the Gourmet Traveller obtained from the most amazing Darwin restaurant, the Hanuman. Here is the link: http://www.gourmettraveller.com.au/eggplant-pachadi.htm

  10. […] Regular visitors to this blog might recall that I am an avid fan of the aubergine. […]

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