It is a nice day for grilling, and I’d like to use up a few ugly vegetables I have kicking around in the fridge. Some lovely hardwood smoke will do wonders to make these guys shine, and the preparation couldn’t be simpler. I’ll do two dishes featuring grilled long eggplant (sometimes called Japanese eggplant): a dish based on a popular night market street food in Cambodia, and another based on a simplified Lao jaew dip to eat with vegetables and sticky rice.
Long eggplant is pretty versatile. It is excellent stir fried or braised, either together with meat or on its own, and it doesn’t require any special preparation to remove bitterness like its larger Western cousin often does–you can simply cut it up and toss it into a pan. Grilling long eggplant is even easier–just put it over the coals.
Create a street food ambiance–use hardwood charcoal
I really like using hardwood charcoal. Once it is lit, memories come flooding back. I am reminded of nights around a campfire, winter in Northern Asia, and best of all, night markets of China and Southeast Asia. Wood coal is one of the most common cooking fuels in Asia for many amazing street foods.
This preparation is incredibly forgiving. The skins of the eggplants, tomato, shallots, garlic, and chiles will be discarded. The inside bits are what we’ll be using. That means these items can even be a bit charred on the outside and still pick up positive smoke elements while they have cooked through on the inside.
My coals are probably too hot for these items (especially for those Thai chiles–which I couldn’t salvage in the end). If I was grilling meat, it’d be burnt. I keep the grill covered to get some nice smoke going, and grill these things for about 15 minutes. The eggplants and tomatoes should be nice and soft. The garlic and shallot may need more time.
Cambodian grilled eggplant (with fried pork) – dot trab ដុតត្រប់
This popular Cambodian street food seems to be commonly prepared two ways. It can be grilled and then halved and topped with a fried minced meat (here is a nice video example from Luke Nguyen’s Greater Mekong from SBS, and here is another video in Khmer from 2Day Cooking for comparison). The other common preparation is to coarsely chop the grilled eggplant flesh to mix together with fried minced meat. I am cooking this one. There is a video from Khatiya Korner that you can see that follows the second preparation. My other source for this dish came from a long conversation with a shop keeper at my favorite Cambodian market (thanks Molina!)
Fry shallot, garlic, and chile in some oil and add pork. Break up the meat small and season with palm sugar, oyster sauce, fermented soy bean sauce (optional), and fish sauce. Taste for seasonings. When flavors are strong, toss in the chopped eggplant, mix to finish, and plate with some chopped cilantro on top.
Lao-style grilled eggplant dip – jaew makeuayao แจ่วมะเขือยาว
Jaew is a perfect accompaniment to fresh or blanched crunchy vegetables and sticky rice. A few years ago I posted on two other equally delicious jaew preparations: a grilled oyster mushroom jaew, and jaew bong. Today’s jaew is modified slightly from a more common grilled tomato jaew—jaew makeuatet/jaew maklen (แจ่วมะเขือเทศ/ແຈ່ວໝາກເລັ່ນ). I really like the addition of eggplant. This preparation is incredibly simple. Char eggplants, shallots, garlic, tomatoes and chiles over coals (or under the broiler, or even over a gas flame). After grilled soft, take off skins. Bash aromatics in a mortar and pestle. Coarsely chop eggplant and tomato and add that to the mortar and pestle and continue to bash/combine. Season to taste with fish sauce and lime juice.