I love eggplant but don’t always want all the calories that go with eating it. It’s a vegetable that’s often times cooked into rich foods, fried in oil or simmered in rich sauces. Even when I grill whole ones, either for Vietnamese eggplant with scallions or Indian bhaigan bharta, there’s some oil involved to enhance the vegetables plush qualities.
Giving into all the fatty eggplant pleasures — deep-fried eggplant tempura, stir-fried eggplant in garlic sauce, baked eggplant parmesan — seems inevitable. A low-calorie eggplant dish? Nah!
Never would have I thought of boiling eggplant. That sounded nasty when a Hmong farmer suggested it to me. It’s a common way for us to prepare eggplant, John Xiong assured me. He harvested some Chinese eggplant from his Fresno field and we went back to his home to prepare this dish, among others that hot afternoon in 2006.
The Hmong eggplant mash (called lws kubtshis tuav, don’t ask me for a pronunciation!) was enlightening. John and his wife, Bee, boiled their eggplants whole so they would not get water logged. When soft, they peeled them, then mixed the flesh into a fiery chile, scallion, and cilantro mixture that had just been pounded in their mortar.
The result was full of heat and herbal pungency. It was great scooped from the mortar onto balls of steamed sticky rice, but John said that it was rather lean. If you want to take it another step, he revealed, cooking it with some oil and add extra scallion. He did and it was richer tasting.
Since 2006, I’ve prepared this Hmong eggplant mash recipe every summer, when Asian eggplants are the freshest at my farmer’s market. I make it without the extra step of sautéing it.
Without the oil, eggplant’s natural sweetness comes forward more and the bold seasonings remain bright. Plus, it’s a simple and low-calorie way to capture eggplant’s lush flesh.
I'm not about to give up on deep-frying eggplant but a girl's got to keep a balanced diet! Give this eggplant recipe a try for a light and easy summer
Hmong Spicy Eggplant Mash
Lws Kubtshis Tuav
Choose any of the purple eggplants for this mash. Make sure they’re firm and weighty feeling. I eat the mash with regular rice, sticky rice, or spread on toasted baguette.
Serves 3 or 4
2 large or 3 medium Asian-style eggplants (Chinese, Indian, Japanese or Filipino) (1 pound total)
9 small or 8 medium Thai chiles, stemmed and chopped
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped scallion, green part only
1/4 lightly packed cup chopped cilantro
1. Put the eggplant, untrimmed, into a pot of water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for about 20 minutes, until extremely soft. When gently pressed with the chopstick, the chopstick should leave an impression.
2. Remove from the water and set aside to cool for about 5 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Use your fingers to remove the thin skin from each eggplant; discard the skin. Trim and discard the stem end. Cut each eggplant crosswise into 2 or 3 pieces.
3. Put the chiles and salt into a mortar. With a circular motion of the pestle, crush the chiles and salt against the sides of the mortar into a rough mixture.
4. Add the scallion and cilantro, and switch to an up and down pounding motion with the pestle to combine the flavors well and reduce the mixture to a damp, rough mixture.
5. Add the eggplant to a mortar and wield the pestle in a circular motion, as if you’re stirring, to combine the ingredients well. (If you have a small mortar, add the eggplant in 2 or 3 batches). Taste and add extra salt as needed. Transfer to a shallow bowl. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Note: If you want to make a richer version, add 2 chopped scallions (use green part only) to the mash. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a wok over medium heat and sauté the mash for about 2 minutes, or until the scallion has softened and is cooked through. Transfer to a bowl and serve warm or at room temperature.
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