Sometimes it’s a little hard to believe our trip through Southeast Asia was truly over three months ago. The fabulous little dips in which we rolled our sticky rice in Laos still burned into our memories like the spiciest of chile peppers. Luckily, we’d had the presence of mind to take cooking classes while we were there, so that now, when a hankering hits for a little nostalgia of the culinary kind, we simply whip up a little eggplant dip and reminisce.
What, you haven’t been? Worry not, this is not a dish to fear, but rather one that any cook can try and that all should. These dips make great entertainers–a real departure from the same old same old dips that you see at everyone’s place (pass the hummus, please?). Because we found out late in the game that people were coming over, I hadn’t had the chance to soak the sticky rice. Okay, wait, that’s kind of a lie (what kind of hell lies ahead for food bloggers who tell untruths? I musn’t wonder…), in reality we talked about it the night before, halfway through a bottle of wine and three courses deep in a foie gras tasting menu (post to come, not to worry). Clearly the execution of the plan failed and I got home at 5:30 with an hour to come up with a revised dipping apparatus.
Sweet potatoes, as usual, came to the rescue. With a few swift passes on the mandoline, I had two sweet potatoes divided up on to two cooking sheets on parchment paper, salted, peppered and into a 250 degree oven. Once they started to curl up, I flipped ‘em up and left them till they got brown and crispy ’round the edges. Perfect, quick and damn healthy too.
Lao Eggplant Dip (Jeow Mak Keua)
Adapted from Tamarind Cooking School in Luang Prabang, Laos
2 Eggplants–use nice long thin eggplants, the huge American style ones are too thick
1 Thai Bird Chilli
4 Cloves of Garlic
1/2 Cup Cilantro
Fish Sauce and/or salt to taste
The fun part of this recipe, especially in the winter with a gas stove is roasting the eggplant (prick it first to let out excess moisture) over the open fire. Alternatively, this can be done over a grill, or if need be, under an electric broiler. But the gas is the most fun. Also roast the chile and the shallot. Then peel the shallot and the eggplants. You CAN do this in the mortar and pestle, but it also works (with slightly less good texture and half the work) in a food processor. Add the eggplant flesh, shallot, garlic, cilantro and scallion all in and blend. Then add the fish sauce and lime, tasting for your own salt/fish sauce tolerance.