A few years ago my wife and I attended a book launch and signing by the renowned Asian food writer and cook Charmaine Solomon. It was in the early days of my culinary enlightenment and an event like this was like looking in to a food kaleidoscope; so many colourful and varied combinations of ingredients to produce exquisite and aesthetically stunning patterns, or dishes. I loved gigs like this and this book launch was no different.
I went on to learn the absorption method for cooking rice, smelled and tasted a variety of spices, herbs and vegetables, and had a couple of glasses of the old jumping grape. I remember vividly an attendee in the audience asking Charmaine what her views on fusion food were. This was at a time when the melding of different food cultures was becoming a fad. Her reply stuck with me, although in ink (or digitally written) it sounds corny. She said
I think a lot of fusion food becomes confusion food.
It was another profound moment for me, because it got me thinking that clever food, tasty food, great food must be about the harmony of the ingredients in the final dish; not the perception of how clever a cook/ chef can be by using unusual ingredients or techniques. I say this not to be dissuaded from trying unusual flavour pairings or textural combinations; I adore this kind of cooking. What I am trying to allude to is that whatever is delivered on the plate, harmony must always take precedent over a confusion of flavours, or even textures.
As is customary at a book launch and signing we bought a book and had Charmaine sign it. I was like a kid in a sweet shop; overwhelmed and excited to be in the company of such a revered food authority. When it came to the signing she asked who to make it out to. My wife replied “Nick and Mitali”.
Some get confused with my wife’s name, albeit only 6 letters and it being spelt exactly as it sounds. It goes well to the Mickey Mouse ditty M-i-c-k-e-y…M-i-t-a-l-i…na,na,na,na,na, as comedian Lee Mack once pointed out in a show we were at. Anyway, Charmaine asked for the spelling, and when happy proceeded to write in the book whilst we chatted amongst ourselves. Charmaine looked up and said “there you go”. I looked down smiled and then read her words “To Mitali and Dick” …confusion indeed.
This dish is in honour of Charmaine Solomon (well it is one of hers). Simple, yet wickedly tasty and intense.
Thai Coriander and Black Pepper Aubergine CurryPrint
- For the Paste:
- ■ 2 tbsp. black peppercorns |
- ■ 1 fresh bay leaf |
- ■ 200g fresh coriander | Roughly chopped, including the stems and roots – warning: wash very well, especially the often sandy roots.
- ■ 3 cloves garlic | Roughly chopped.
- ■ 2 tsp. sea salt | I use Maldon.
- ■ ½ lime - juice of |
- ■ ½ lemon - juice of |
- For the Curry:
- ■ 700g aubergine (eggplant) | That’s about 2 medium ones.
- ■ 1 litre or so grapeseed oil | For deep frying – any other non-fragranced oil such as groundnut or canola can be used.
- ■ 2 tbsp. grapeseed oil
- ■ 3 tbsp. coriander and black pepper paste | See above.
- ■ 300ml coconut milk |
- ■ 200ml water |
- ■ 2 tbsp. fish sauce |
- ■ 1 tbsp. palm sugar | Grated. Palm sugar has a treacle like taste which is excellent in Asian cooking.
- ■ ½ lime - juice of |
- ■ 2 sprigs fresh coriander | Wash, pick the leaves and chop.
For the paste, firstly preheat an oven to 180 deg. C (360 deg. F). Spread the black peppercorns and bay leaf on a baking tray, put in the oven and toast for 5 minutes. Catch the marvellous scent as you pull the tray out of the oven.
In a small mortar and pestle, mince the garlic with the sea salt until a smooth paste is achieved (or do it on a chopping board using the flat of a knife). In a large sturdy mortar and pestle crush the peppercorns and bay leaf until coarsely ground. Now add the roughly chopped coriander and begin to pound. This takes a little work but it’s worth it (this can be done in a food processor but I think the results are better when done manually). Now add the minced garlic, lemon juice and lime juice and pound until paste like. Put the paste in a clean, sterilised jar and store in the fridge for up to 3 months.
Now for the curry: heat the oil in a deep saucepan or wok until it reaches 180 deg. C (360 deg. F) – if you don’t have a thermometer, get one, it will be one of the best purchases you make. Cut the aubergine in to 2 cm cubes. In 3 separate batches deep fry the aubergine cubes until they start to take on a nice golden brown colour. Remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent kitchen paper.
Heat the 2 tablespoons of grapeseed oil in a large frying pan or wok, on a low heat. Add the coriander and pepper paste and cook for about 2-3 minutes. There will be a sensational fragrance given off. Increase the heat to medium, add the coconut milk, stir well, add the water and then bring to the boil. Add the fish sauce and palm sugar, stir, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Then add the aubergine and simmer for a further 10 minutes or so, until the aubergine is tender. Finally, add the lime juice and a half of the chopped coriander, stir and then serve immediately. Use the remaining coriander as garnish.
Goes great with jasmine rice, or as I have served it here, sticky rice (also known as glutinous rice – which actually doesn’t contain gluten).