Just when I start to get things under control, my Farmer fixation flares up again. This time, it’s eggplant. I loooooove eggplant, but it really all depends on the preparation and, as I’m learning, the eggplant itself. These tiny, little specimens we’re getting from the farm, in addition to being cute, are also DELICIOUS, and so the Farmer has no one to blame but himself. And maybe the rain.
The first thing that jumps to mind with eggplant for me is eggplant Parmesan, but I didn’t want to get oil spatters all over my newly painted walls quite yet. Maybe next week. Also, I was in the mood for something different. Something Asian, perhaps. The Elephant Walk Cookbook to the rescue.
People, this may not look like much, but it is so good. It’s beef and eggplant in a Cambodian curry sauce over rice, which might sound like the eggplant would get lost in the shuffle, but it doesn’t. It shines. Even with all the substitutions and subtractions I made, it rocked. Frankly, I couldn’t believe the cook was me.
(For the record, the kids just want me to mention how much they hate eggplant, and it doesn’t matter how much coconut milk I smother it in. Fine, I said, you can have that opinion, but only after you take a bite. Until then, you love eggplant. You want to marry it.)
Cambodian Beef and Eggplant Curry
I made a whole bunch of substitutions to keep things as local as possible. As for the coconut milk, well, I’m afraid I can’t divulge my source for locally pressed coconuts.
2 fresh jalapeños, seeded and deveined (next time, I’ll add another)
1 stalk lemongrass, thinly sliced (I used 1-2 Tbsp. lemon thyme from out back)
5 garlic cloves, peeled
2 large shallots, peeled, quartered
1 Tbsp. ginger, peeled, sliced
8 kaffir lime leaves (I used a similar amount of Vietnamese coriander instead, just for the hell of it)
¼ tsp. turmeric
2 Tbsp. cilantro
1½ cups water
¼ cup vegetable oil
2¼ cups unsweetened coconut milk (something like 1½ cans)
1 tsp. shrimp paste (I omitted this)
2 lb. sirloin steak, cut into strips about 2x1x¼-inches
¼ cup fish sauce
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 cups water
1 lb. small Asian eggplants, cut into half-moons
Fresh basil leaves for garnish
In a blender, purée the first nine ingredients until smooth, 2-3 minutes. Set aside.
Heat 3 tbsp. of the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add 1 cup of the coconut milk and cook, stirring, until the oil in the coconut milk separates out, 2-3 minutes. Stir in the spice mix from the blender (and shrimp paste, if you’re using it) and cook until the sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the beef and cook 5-6 minutes. Add the fish sauce, sugar, salt, the remaining 1¼ cups coconut milk, and water, and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, 30-40 minutes, until meat is tender.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in a medium frying pan. Add the eggplant and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir the eggplant into the stew and cook until heated through, 2-3 minutes. Serve over rice and garnish with fresh basil. Serves 6.
Source: Adapted from The Elephant Walk Cookbook.