I'm going to start off by saying that contrary to the title, we did not find this to be the best eggplant dish ever. Of the various eggplant dishes we have made for the blog, I vastly preferred the Andhra Spiced Eggplant, the Indian Spiced Eggplant and the Eggplant Caponata. We have also made a number of other recipes that included eggplant that I preferred to this dish, but I am only listing the recipes that really featured the eggplant. With all of that said, this wasn't a bad dish. It just didn't really do anything for me. While we were cooking the eggplant I started to get worried that it was going to be really fishy because the dried shrimp gave off a thoroughly fishy aroma as the eggplant braised away. I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't fishy but it just didn't do it for me. The dish was lacking the balance of flavors that I usually find in this cookbook and really only tasted like moderately spicy eggplant mush. Come to think of it, the dish looks exactly like it tastes. Now maybe it was a problem of execution. Perhaps if we had added the optional ground pork it would have really taken the dish to another level. I didn't think the dish was really lacking a "meaty" element because eggplant itself is already pretty filling and rich. But it would have added a little flavor and a different textural element at the very least. We tried serving the dish with both naan and basmati rice - I preferred it with the naan but that's purely a matter of personal preference.
Recipe after the jump!
The Best Eggplant Dish Ever
Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia
By Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
3 Thai dried chilis, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes to soften
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping tbsp dried shrimp
1 tsp salt
1 medium tomato, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup (about 2 oz) ground pork (optional)
1/2 tsp ground turmeric (optional)
1 1/2 lbs Asian eggplants, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
5-8 leaves mint or cilantro, coarsely torn
Drain the chiles, reserving the soaking water. Coarsely chop, discarding the tough stems, and place in a mortar or blender together with shallots, garlic, dried shrimp and salt. Pound or process to a paste (if using a blender, you might need to add some of the chili soaking water). Add the tomato and pound or blend briefly. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Place a 3-4 quart heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid over moderately-high heat (we used our Le Creuset braiser). Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pot with oil. Add the pork (if using) and brown briefly, then add the spice paste and optional turmeric. Lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring, until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Add the eggplant slices and stir briefly, cover tightly and reduce heat to low. Cook, checking every 5 minutes or so to ensure that nothing is sticking and to briefly stir the eggplant mixture, for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The eggplant is done when very tender and shapeless. Taste and season with additional salt (if necessary).
Turn out into a shallow bowl and top with mint/cilantro. Serve warm or at room temperature.