Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Roasted Eggplant in Coconut Curry Sauce

This dish is aromatic and light with some warmth, but definitely not hot.  I found it to be real comfort food. There are three parts: the coconut milk infusion, the curry paste and the roasted eggplant. You can serve this family style, on a platter, or on individual plates.

I didn't have the kaffir lime leaves called for in the original recipe and substituted lime but if you can get your hands on them, they are wonderful. The kaffir lime has sort of a double leaf and in recipes each half is generally considered to be one leaf. You can find them frozen or dried. I have read that if you use dried, double the quantity called for in the recipe.

Lemongrass. Left: prepared and ready to use
Lemongrass. Native to the Philippines, it is used widely used in cooking as an herb or tea. It has a highly aromatic citrus taste. It's pretty easy to find these days in some grocery stores and farmers markets and definitely in Asian markets. It freezes very well. To prepare, remove the tough outer leaves. Cut off about 1/3" at the root end. Cut off any of the top that doesn't give a little when you stick a fingernail into it. Remove a few layers of the tough outer leaves. From that point, there should be about 3-4 inches of stalk to use. Bash the remaining stalk with a meat tenderizer (or something similar) with gusto until it breaks down, then prepare as called for in your recipe. You'll want a sharp knife for mincing the bashed up stalks. Even with the tough bits removed, they're quite fibrous and the smaller you mince them, the better they will break down when you make the curry paste.

If you are freezing it, slice thinly (before bashing) and store in small plastic bags from which you have removed all possible air. I store mine in a 'snack sized' zip-close bags and just break off a chunk - it will defrost quickly - then seal the bag again. I  write the amount (number of stalks) of lemongrass on the plastic bag so that I can figure out what volume to remove when a recipe calls for a number of stalks. Fresh is best and freezing any aromatic will lessen its intensity, so use a little more if you're using frozen.

Coconut milk can generally be found in regular and 'light' versions. I can't remember the last time I used full-fat coconut milk in a savory dish. The 'light' versions have about 60% less fat and using it does not seem to negatively affect the dishes I've cooked.

This dish calls for Japanese or Italian eggplant. Long and generally about 2" or less in diameter. Make sure you don't slice them any less then 1/3" (and up to 1/2 inch) thick. They should be soft after roasting but if they're too thin, they'll break down.

The amount of sauce will be generous. After you serve, set some on the table to pass around. It's good. Since it is not over hot, this works as a side dish to spicier/hotter dishes or as an accompaniment to grilled meat, poultry or fish. I ate mine with some grilled, sliced marinated tofu.

RECIPE: ROASTED EGGPLANT IN COCONUT CURRY SAUCE
Adapted from: Herbivoracious
Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

Ingredients
  • Coconut Milk Infusion
    • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
    • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and thickly sliced
    • 1-2 small, hot red chiles (I used 2 chiles d'Arbol) roughly chopped
    • 1 bay leaf, broken into large pieces
    • 6 sprigs of cilantro plus 3 sprigs for garnishing the finished dish
    • 1 14 oz can coconut milk (I used light)
  • Roasted Eggplant
    • 4 Japanese  or Italian eggplant (about 1 - 1 1/4 lbs), trimmed at both ends
    • 1-2 teaspoons vegetable oil
    • salt
  • Curry Paste
    • 3 small shallots, peeled and sliced thin (about 1/3-1/2 cup)
    • 5 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced or the zest (no pith!) of 1 large lime (or lemon) removed in slices and roughly chopped
    • 2 stalks lemon grass, tough outer leaves removed, tough upper stalks removed, bashed (to break down the fibrous stem) and minced very fine.
    • 2 cloves garlic, thickly sliced
    • 1 inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced thin
    • 1 handful of Thai (or other) basil leaves (you can include some of the tender stems) plus about 8 small leaves for garnish (or 4 large leaves, torn at the time you garnish the dish)
    • Juice of 1 lime (or lemon), plus a little more if you need it.
Preparation
  • Preheat the oven, rack in the middle, to 450F
  • 1 rimmed baking sheet
  • 1 2-3 quart heavy bottom sauce pan
  • Mortar and pestle, small food processor or mini-chop
Infuse the Coconut Milk
  • In a saucepan (2-3 quart) on medium heat, add the oil. Add the garlic and chiles
Roasting the Eggplant
  • Trim the top and bottom of the eggplants. Slice them lengthwise in 1/3"- 1/2" slices and score diagonally about 1/3 of the way through the top of each side of the slices. Brush a baking sheet with some of the oil and place the prepared eggplant slices. Brush each side lightly with some of the vegetable oil and season each piece lightly with salt on both sides. Roast these slices in the oven on a baking sheet until completely tender and browned - about 30 minutes in total. Check them after 15 minutes, turning each slice. On the second side, check after 10 minutes to make sure they're not getting too brown.
 Preparing the Curry Paste and Serving
  • While the eggplant slices are roasting, in a small food processor, mini-chop or with a mortar and pestle, combine the kaffir lime leaves (or lime zest), the sliced shallots, prepared lemongrass, garlic, ginger and Thai basil and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Process in the food processor, mini-chop or pound until you have a very fine paste. Mix-in the lime juice. Set aside.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in the sauce pan you used to infuse the coconut milk on medium high heat until it shimmers , add the curry paste, adjusting the heat down, if necessary and fry for 1 minute. Turn down the heat to medium low and cook the paste an additional minute then add the infused coconut milk, stirring to combine. Cook at a gentle simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the salt. When it's ready, stir in the lime juice and combine completely.
  • Pour half the sauce on a large, warmed serving platter. Transfer the eggplant slices to the platter and pour more sauce over the top (you don't have to use it all). garnish with the reserved cilantro sprigs and basil leaves.

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