Sunday, August 3, 2014

Thai-Style Spicy Eggplant with Basil

I love the Thai Market in Silver Spring, MD and it has been my go-to place for Asian food staples like coconut milk, pork foo, and Vietnamese beef meatballs more so than, even, my other favorite place, H-Mart. The only drawback to Thai Market is that they don't have fresh fruit and veggies but it is a phenomenal place to stock your pantry with packaged ingredients for (mostly) Asian cooking. For such a small store they often have better prices, on some items, than H-Mart!

However, one of the best things about Thai Market is their carry-out where I had Thai Eggplant with Basil that is as good as what I'd eaten when I worked for the Thai House Restaurant in Atlanta. When I worked there this was a seasonal/special dish because Chinese eggplant was pretty scarce in 1980s Georgia and substituting the big purple ones just doesn't taste the same. H-Mart has a good variety of Asian eggplants to choose from: long purple Japanese ones to the small round Thai versions in green, purple, and white. For this recipe you may use any of these in any combination. Normally, I would use Thai Holy Basil but, if you can't find it (if you do, it's pretty expensive) H-Mart always has a Vietnamese variety that is, virtually, indistinguishable.

Vegetable oil (regular ol' vegetable oil, peanut oil, or canola work best and don't add any other flavors like, say, olive oil would)
1 onion cut into half-moon slices or chopped, your call
3 or 4 cloves of minced garlic (I use a lot! I love garlic!)
Hot chilies to taste, sliced however you like. I like spicy so I use the tiny Thai ones (pretty spicy) or Korean Long peppers (less spicy)
2 or 3 long Japanese eggplants cut into irregular chunks (I do this by cutting it once on the diagonal then cut the next piece straight across. That way you get these, sort of, triangular cone shapes which seem to cook better than regular slices).
1 lg. bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips (yellow and/or red ones will look pretty)
1-2 tbls. nam pla
1 tbl, sugar
1/4 c. water
A handful of fresh Thai or Vietanmese basil leaves, removed from stems
a splash of sesame oil

Heat the 2 tbls. of the oil in a skillet until very hot but not smoking. Add the onion, garlic and about half of the hot peppers (I use some for garnish and an added  spicy crunch). Cooking on high heat, stirring frequently to prevent burning, until lightly soft and fragrant. Add a little more oil and, then, the bell pepper and eggplant after the oil is hot otherwise the eggplant will soak it all up and be greasy tasting. Add the nam pla, sugar and water and bring to a boil and simmer until eggplant is soft, adding more water, a little at a time, if needed to get it to the texture you like. Throw in most of the basil leaves and a little sesame oil and stir into the eggplant until barely wilted. Serve with hot rice. Garnish with basil leaves, sesame seeds and sliced or whole chilies.

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