Sean has been experimenting with a pseudo-Paleo diet , which is pretty much my worst nightmare, since it eliminates all grains, dairy, legumes, sugar, soy, and potatoes. What is left to eat?! I've been trying to figure that out. In trying to come up with something to make for dinner the other night, I remembered a recipe from a cookbook I hadn't cracked open in a while: Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table, by Mai Pham. Pham is the chef/owner at Lemon Grass Restaurant in Sacramento, a Hart family favorite. I've had this book for a few years, and it really makes Vietnamese cooking accessible at home. Best of all, it introduces you to exciting flavor combinations that you can incorporate into your cooking generally, not just the recipes in the book. Many of the recipes are very simple, and this eggplant recipe is one of them. Here's what you'll need: eggplant, scallions, Thai or serrano chiles, fish sauce, and vegetable oil.
Pham recommends using skinny, Asian eggplant, but I used regular, round ones with no problem. You're aiming for about a pound of eggplant (my overgrown ones were about a pound and a half - no worries, this recipe is forgiving). Roast the eggplants directly over a flame, either on your gas stovetop or on a grill. Use tongs to rotate the eggplant - you want the outside to be evenly charred and the inside to be soft. If you're using thin Asian eggplants, they will be done much more quickly than their fat cousins - about 5 minutes vs. about 20 that it took me this time around. I also think that doing them on the burner is faster than on the grill, since the eggplants are closer to the flame.
Allow the eggplant to cool, then peel the charred skin (and caps) off and discard. Pham recommends doing this under cool running water, which is helpful if you haven't allowed quite enough time for cooling. Then roughly chop the eggplant flesh (or just pull it apart if it is very soft) and reserve in a bowl. Heat two tablespoons of vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat and add 3-4 chopped scallions. They will hiss and foam a bit upon contact with the hot oil. Stir, and let them carry on like that for about 20 seconds. Then remove the pan from the heat and add two chopped chiles, 1 tablespoon fish sauce, and a pinch of salt. Pour the mixture over the eggplant and toss gently. You can either serve it warm or at room temperature.
It was a delicious dinner, and I didn't even notice that it was paleo-ish.*
*As written, this recipe is not 100% paleo because I used canola oil, which is a no-no, and the brand of fish sauce that I used has some added sugar, also a no-no. Don't tell Sean. You could easily substitute more compliant ingredients.