Monday, 27 January 2014

Just a Little Yummy

Melanzane Thailandese con Basilico & Tagliatelle "Tom Yum"
Thai Eggplant with Basil & Tom Yum Noodles

When it comes to eggplants, which as you know I absolutely love, there are always two options for me when I go to the market hall. I can either think of "The Old Country" and visit Nina, who always has the best, Sicilian, "regular", plump purple or black ones... or if I feel like something exotic, the longer, almost snake-like purple variety... Or alternatively, I can go and visit Mrs. Wong and choose these delectable little Thai beauties instead, which is plainly what I opted to do this weekend... and I am so glad that I did! 

Though smaller and generally speaking a little firmer than the large ones, the main difference is that they are also a little more intense in their flavor, as they contain as many seeds as a large eggplant. These are what make eggplants sometimes a little bitter and the reason that we sprinkle them with salt before cooking, as the salt draws the bitterness out. That was just a part of the deal with the dish I tried this evening though- and a quick, easy and delicious dish it turned out to be too! Take a look and see!

As you can see, the ingredients were rather basic... 3 little Thai eggplants, 1 bundle of egg noodles, 1 shallot (although 2 are in the picture!), a half stick of celery, a little ginger, a little chili and some fresh basil. Oh! And of course some deliciously rich and wonderful Tom Yum paste! 

We all love Tom Yum Gai soup, with plenty of chicken and rich coconut milk, but I like to use this aromatic citrus/shrimp/garlic/chili paste to flavor other dishes too. Like this one. Obviously. Because the tangy, refreshing flavor made the noodles into a perfect addition to the simple basil-infused eggplant. The celery added a little crunch, the shallot a little sweetness and the ginger and chili just a touch of heat. And I don't know about you folks... but that sounded like a pretty terrific combination to me!

I started off by making 3 cuts into the eggplants as you can see in the image below. I then squeezed them a little, so that the slits opened up and sprinkles a little salt inside- tricky but doable. As they are so small, and they of course immediately squeeze shut again, the salt does its work really quickly. After just 10 minutes, I managed with a little pressure, to squeeze quite a bit of a bit of bitterness out of them. Don't overdo it when you squeeze them, as you don't want to risk them splitting open and that will ruin the next step, which is to slide a basil leaf into each of the slits. Sounds tricky- but again... is totally doable! 

The next step was to pop them into a steamer for 10-15 minutes, during which time of course I was able to prepare the other ingredients. I cut the celery into slices, on the diagonal and sliced the chili finely, discarding the seeds so as to not let the dish get too spicy... but of course that is a matter of personal preference. 

After 15 minutes of steaming, the eggplants were cooked through and were ready to be transformed. Of course they were already full of flavor from the basil, but it was time to have a little fun and put this dish together now!

Into the frying pan went a drizzle of sesame oil and the celery, ginger and chilies, which I fried for 2-3 minutes before adding the eggplant. In the meantime I brought some water up to the boil for the noodles- just enough so that they were covered by about an inch. I added a tablespoonful of Tom Yum paste, the juice of half a lime, a good splash of fish sauce and a pinch of sugar.... then turned my attention back to the frying pan!

By now the eggplants had begun to wilt a little more, shine a little more... and smell much more fragrant of basil... delicious! I added a splash of water, just enough to cover the base of the frying pan, a little light soy sauce, a little honey and then popped on the lid and turned off the heat.

By the time noodles were done, they had soaked up most of the water, but were still a little "soupy" with all of that good Tom Yum flavor- and these went straight into a bowl ready for serving. I spooned in all of the small ingredients from the frying pan and gently mixed them into the noodles and then laid the eggplants on top... added a few last drops of sesame oil and a sprinkle of parsley for some freshness and color (and because I had no fresh coriander!)- and dinner was served!

The best thing about this was how much fun it was to eat! The eggplants have those handy little stems, which allow you to pick them and nibble away at them... and just take a look in that picture how juicy and delicious they looked inside... mmm! And they were! And the basil flavor was so clean and rich- perfect to bring out the best in the eggplant and also mild enough to be a perfect balance for the slightly hot and tangy noodles. 

Good food, no fuss and just a great idea I'd say. Need I say more?

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