I love eggplant, because cooked properly, it has this buttery-smooth, melt-in-your-mouth texture that lingers on the palate, a true joy to eat. Eggplant is also an incredibly versatile vegetable and can be cooked in so many ways. Stir-fried, boiled in curries, grilled, baked… the list goes on.
Here’s one of my all-time favourite eggplant recipes- Rempah Eggplant. A common home-style Southeast Asian dish, eggplant is stir-fried with a spicy rempah (spice paste). In this dish, a few simple ingredients are transformed into a tantalising treat for the taste-buds, thanks to the wonderful flavours of the rempah.
The rempah in this recipe is a basic one known in my hometown of Singapore as hae bee hiam, or Chilli Shrimp Paste. It is simple to prepare- dried shrimp (available from Asian grocers) is pounded together in a mortar and pestle with some chillies, garlic and onions. If you have a low tolerance for chillies, de-seed them before pounding. Otherwise, leave the seeds in the rempah for a fiery kick.
Serves 2, as a main
1 medium size eggplant, cut into bite-size pieces approx. 2 inches by 1 inch (5 cm x 3 cm)
5 tbsp (75 ml) vegetable oil
2 tbsp sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp dried shrimp, soaked for two hours and drained (available from Asian grocers)
1 red onion (or 5-6 shallots)
2 cloves garlic
6-8 fresh red chillies
To prepare the rempah, dice the onions (or shallots), chillis and garlic individually and set aside. Do not mix the ingredients at this stage.
Place the shrimp into the mortar and pound into a fine paste. Add the chillies and pound until well-blended. Add the garlic to the mixture and pound. Finally, add the onions or shallots and pound into a smooth paste. Set aside.
Heat 3 tbsp (45ml) of vegetable oil in a wok or heavy-bottomed pan over low heat. Add the rempah, salt and sugar and fry for about 10-15 minutes until fragrant and the paste is nicely browned. While cooking, taste and adjust the rempah’s sweetness to balance the heat of the chillies. Stir the rempah constantly to prevent burning.
When the rempah is cooked, turn the heat up to medium-high and add the chopped eggplant into the pan. Stir-fry for about 3 minutes until the oil is absorbed. Drizzle the remaining 2 tbsp of oil over the eggplant. Continue to stir-fry for another 3-5 minutes, or until eggplant is fully cooked and softened.
Serve hot with steamed rice.