In Southeast Asia, long, slender, light green eggplants are the most common variety and are the best choice for this recipe. They require little preparation, don’t need to be salted to extract bitterness, and don’t even need to be peeled. Just throw them on the grill whole and cook them until they are charred on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside—a perfect canvas on which to paint a colorful combination of flavors and textures. The coconut milk–based dressing used here reinforces the creaminess of the grilled eggplants, while the crisp shallots and crunchy cashews provide contrasting texture. There’s so much flavor in this satisfying dish that guests may not even notice that yam ma-khuea yao is meat-free.
In the West, purple Japanese eggplants are the perfect substitute for Thai long, green ones, which aren’t available in most areas.
- Line a small plate with a paper towel. In a small frying pan, combine the oil and shallots, place over medium heat, and cook, stirring often, until the shallots are crisp and golden brown, 7 to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shallots to the towel-lined plate and let cool. Reserve the shallot oil for another use.
- Light a chimney full of charcoal. When the coals are ready, spread them out on the bottom of a hibachi or small kettle grill for cooking over medium fire (350°F).
- Meanwhile, make the dressing: In a 1-quart saucepan, whisk together the coconut milk and cornstarch, then place over medium heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Lower the heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to lukewarm. Stir in the lime juice and sugar, then taste and add salt. Aim for a dressing that’s equally sour, sweet, and salty. Set aside.
- When the coals are covered with white ash and the grate is hot, grill the eggplant all over, flipping them as needed, until charred and a fork slid into the flesh meets no resistance. Transfer to a cutting board.
- When the eggplants are cool enough to handle, cut them crosswise into 1-inch-thick pieces and arrange the pieces on a platter. Drizzle the pieces with the dressing and sprinkle with the crisp shallots, followed by the pepper flakes, cashews, and cilantro. Sprinkle the mint leaves over the top. Serve immediately with the rice.
Reprinted with permission from Flavors of the Southeast Asian Grill: Classic Recipes for Seafood and Meats Cooked Over Charcoal by Leela Punyaratabandhu. Copyright© 2020 shesimmers.com. Photographs copyright ©2020 by David Loftus. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.