Black BeautyJanuary 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.
- 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.