Quick fried Asian eggplants are tossed with homemade sweet-tangy sambal (chili sauce) to make a brightly flavored side dish for your grilled or fried meat or fish.
Years ago, before there was Netflix, we had satellite TV. On Asian Food Channel, there was a Malaysian cooking show that I watched with the audio off because the talkies were in Malaysian, and I only needed to read the subtitles. I loved that show but I can’t recall its name now.
The cook was a middle-aged woman who often wore her native garb. It was from her that I learned how to sauté, Malaysian style. Roast (not applicable to all spices) and grind the spices to a paste then sauté until the paste separates from the oil — a process which takes patience. But the result is just magnificent. And with that basic technique as the starting point, you can do a thousand different dishes using different combinations of spices for the paste.
This sambal eggplants was cooked using that technique. The eggplants were cut, flash fried then drained on paper towels. The ingredients for the sambal were ground to a paste then sautéed until the paste separated from the oil. Then, the eggplants were thrown back into the pan and stir fried just until heated through.
So simple. And so inexpensive with basic ingredients like garlic, ginger and chilis. And yet, the cooked dish has such deep and bold flavors. Really, never underestimate the benefits of sautéing as it brings out all the lovely flavors and aromas of spices.
- 3 eggplants the long and slim Asian variety which is sweet and not bitter
- cooking oil for frying
Fry the eggplants
- Start heating enough cooking oil in a wok or fryer to reach a depth of at least two inches.
- Cut the eggplants vertically into halves, then cut each half horizontally into two.
- When oil is hot, flash fry the eggplants (see What is flash frying?).
- Drain the eggplants on a rack and set aside.
- Pour off the oil from the pan leaving only about two tablespoonfuls.
Make the sambal
- With a mortar and pestle (or in a blender or food processor), grind the shallots, garlic, ginger, chilis and fish sauce until no large bits remain. (If using a blender or food processor and machine won’t run properly, add a few tablespoonfuls of water to help it along.)
- Reheat the oil in the pan.
- Over medium heat, sauté the sambal (medium heat for sauteeing, always) until the color deepens and the paste separates from the oil. This takes about ten minutes so be patient. You have to stir once in a while just so the sambal does burn especially along the edges.
- Drizzle in the lime juice. Taste the sambal. Adjust the seasonings, if needed, adding more fish sauce or sugar, or both.
Finish the dish
- Add the eggplants back to the wok or frying pan. Toss gently to coat each piece of eggplant with the spices. Cook just until the eggplants are heated through.
- Optionally, garnish the sambal eggplants with sliced scallions before serving.
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