Here, we see the Malay influence in the pairing of this mild vegetable with a spice paste that consists of fresh and dried chili peppers, shallots, garlic, and the ubiquitous pungent Belacan (shrimp paste). The use of the latter ingredient along with dried shrimp takes this dish to another level with a huge amount of umami savoriness added to this bland vegetable. However, the treatment of the eggplant is very Chinese in which it is not overcooked, and the pieces maintain their integrity while being infused with spiciness and flavor. Invariably, I always looked forward to my grandmother making this wonderful dish that did not need to convince her grandchildren to enjoy this vegetable due to the dish’s flavors.
When buying eggplant, choose the dark ones with a firm flesh; try to find the long Asian variety and not the bulbous Western one, which can have bitterness to it. Make sure to add only increments of ¼ cup of water when cooking so that the eggplant is steamed and not boiled, hence retaining its shape and texture. Once you get to taste this flavor-packed dish, you will understand why it was my family’s preferred way of eating eggplant, a preference that carries on to this day.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
5 dried chili boh or Kashmiri peppers, or chile puya, stemmed, seeded & soaked (or 1 tablespoon dried chili paste)
2 tablespoons dried shrimp, soaked in water for 10 minutes and drained
3 medium/2 large Asian eggplants, stem removed, halved lengthwise & cut diagonally into 2-inch (5 cm) wide pieces (400 gm)
4 – 5 Finger Hot red chili peppers, stemmed and seeded (or 2 tablespoons paste)
5 small/50 grams shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 inch (2½ cm) Belacan/shrimp paste (½ teaspoon paste)
¾ cup water
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
Soak the dried chili boh peppers in hot water. Do the same for the dried shrimp in another bowl.
Meanwhile, prep the eggplant, red chili peppers, shallots, and garlic.
In a food processor, add the drained dried shrimp and chop until fine. Remove and reserve.
To the processor, add the drained dried red chili peppers and process until fine. Then add the red chilies, shallots, garlic, and Belacan, and process into a very smooth mixture. Remove and reserve.
In a pan on medium-high flame, add 4 tablespoons oil. Fry the processed mixture and dried shrimp for 3 minutes or until aromatic.
Add the eggplant and mix for around 1 minute. Add only ¼ cup water, ½ teaspoon sugar and ½ teaspoon salt. Mix well, cover, and lower heat to medium. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes by stirring occasionally and adding an additional ¼ cup water each time the sauce dries up, until eggplant is fully cooked but not too soft.
When the eggplant is cooked, the sauce should have very little liquid left but not completely dry. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve immediately.