Sunday, September 21, 2008

breaking out of my comfort zone

These are fairy tale eggplant. I discovered them at a stand at the Copley Square Farmers' Market, and I've been eating a lot of them lately.

I'm not sure why they're called fairy tale eggplant, but I do know that they are magical. Unlike your regular-sized eggplant, which tend to require a remarkable amount of peeling, roasting, and frying before they turn soft and appealing, fairy tale eggplant require almost no work at all. Cut them in half, lay them on baking trays, roast them until their skins are slightly wrinkled, and their insides turn tender and creamy. You can eat them straight with nothing more than a little olive oil and salt.

I've also been roasting them with garlic and mixing them with sauteed spinach or tomatoes, topping the whole mess with an egg and baking it in the oven, but the sign at Friday's market said that this week's eggplant were probably going to be the last of the season, so I decided to do something different.

I thought I'd give eggplant in green coconut curry a try.

You see, there's a restaurant called Thai Basil in the Pacific Place shopping complex in Hong Kong. Its prices have gone up over the years, while the portions have been steadily shrinking, but I still go there every time I'm in Hong Kong because of their lamb rack and eggplant in green coconut curry. The lamb is always cooked to medium-rare perfection, and the curried eggplant, mixed with rice, is comfort food of the very best kind.

Now, I know the theory behind Thai curry. It starts with a mortar and pestle, which you use to pound chilies and lemongrass and galangal and other things to make a sticky, aromatic curry paste. You fry this paste in oil, thin it with coconut milk, and then you add other ingredients and simmer until you have a delicious, fragrant dish.

In practice, I headed for my local supermarket and bought a tin of coconut milk and one jar of Thai Kitchen Green Curry Paste.

Given that I wouldn't dream of buying jarred pasta sauce or bechamel sauce mix, this probably sounds awfully inconsistent. But I know the history and the culture involved when I cook French or Italian cuisine. I have a context, a framework, points of reference. Not so with Thai cuisine. I would be stumbling about in the dark, cooking in the void.

One of these days, I'll go out and buy a history of Thai cuisine, a set of the proper kitchen utensils, and a great big instructional tome on Thai cooking, and you'll hear all about the comedy of errors that ensues. (It'll probably involve my running all over Boston in an effort to find fresh galangal, and possibly end in a very bad mishap involving green chilies.)

But not today. It has to begin somewhere, and a jar of pre-prepared paste is as good a point as any. Using storebought paste results in a curry that sweeter and less complex than the curry you'll find in a good Thai restaurant, but it still makes for a satisfying meal. I'm glad to report that the brave souls who came to dinner - Bella, Danny, and David - all agreed.

Roasted Fairy Tale Eggplant in Green Curry

Hardly authentic, but quick and easy and comforting. This dish has very little protein in it, so if you're vegan, you may want tofu or some other protein-rich dish on the side.

(Serves one, with leftovers.)

Preheat oven to 400F. Take a pound of fairy tale eggplant, rinse them, and cut off the stem ends. Slice the eggplant in half, place them cut-side down on an oiled baking tray, and roast for thirty to forty minutes, or until the skins start to wrinkle. Remove the tray from the oven.

Heat a generous quantity of vegetable oil in a big frying pan (a wok would be the correct option, but let's not be fussy) over medium heat. Add one small sliced onion, and cook until soft. Scoop in several heaped spoonfuls of Thai Kitchen Green Curry Paste. (I found that I needed a little more than half the four-ounce jar.) Cook, stirring continuously, until the paste starts to smell like something.

Pour in the contents of a fourteen-ounce can of coconut milk, and stir until you get a pale green creamy liquid. Turn down the heat, and allow it to simmer for three or four minutes.

Take your roasted eggplant, cut them in half if they're on the bigger side, and gently slide them into the curry. Stir and simmer for twenty or thirty minutes. Season to taste with salt.

Garnish with fresh basil and serve over white rice.


Lisa said...

Hey, that jarred stuff comes in handy sometimes. ;)

I am totally going to make this. It sounds and looks incredible. mmmmmmmm!

Julie said...

I see those eggplants at the farmers' markets I go to and always notice how pretty they look but when I buy eggplant it's always the other kind. I'll have to try these. And this curry looks so good!

adele said...

Lisa - Yes, but I always feel slightly guilty about it. (Uh-oh. I'm turning into a Pretentious Foodie, aren't?)

Julie - Oh, do try them. I'm still amazed at how easy they are to prepare. :)

Matthew said...

Hey your photography is improving. Also - you are turning in to a pretentious foodie?

adele said...

No, no. "Pretentious Foodie." It's the capitalization that makes all the difference.

Kim said...

Adele- both curry and eggplant are my kind of food. I have only given Thai cooking a chance once or twice as it seems so complex to make. This I will try.

Cakelaw said...

LOL - I am with the bottle curry paste myself. I've never heard of fairytale eggplant, but they do sound magical. Great curry!

Ann said...

Mmmmm! Must give this a try!

adele said...

Kim - It is impressively simple. :)

Cakelaw - I think they're a relatively new variety, or a very old variety that's only just come back into fashion.

Ann - It's so good, I'm making it again this evening. :)