Fiery, funky and downright delicious Lao style eggplant dip. Go traditional and serve it as part of a meal, or rock something new with corn chips or crackers.
I’ve mentioned before, I heart Laos. Beautiful country, people and food. Take me back, someone?
When I was there a few years ago, I did an amazing cooking course with Tamarind Restaurant and Cooking School in Luang Prabang. It counts as one of the more memorable days of my life. I can’t describe the location as anything other than magical. If only I’d known my future self would like a few pictures for her yet to be dreamed of blog… Heh. Never mind, I was too caught up in the moment.
Anyway. We cooked some great stuff, then we ate it. One of those things was jeow mak keua, a spicy and stinky (in a good way) eggplant dip. Jeow, or spicy dipping sauce, is a typical part of a meal in Laos. Typically served with sticky rice for rolling into balls and dipping into the sauce. I’ve also been served jeow with salty and savoury river weed crisps, a little similar to nori but thicker.
This recipe is a variation on the smoky eggplant dip we made that day. Traditionally it would be made with thin Asian eggplants, which seem to be out of season or hard to find right now. Thankfully it also works great with regular large eggplants. There is no oil in the original recipe, but as I sadly don’t have an open charcoal brazier in my kitchen the oil helps to get some good colour on the eggplant without having to roast it for too long.
Fresh chillis are decidedly out of season right now and outrageously expensive ($8 for three at my local greengrocer, I don’t think so!) so I bought a jar of pickled hot red chillis in brine from the Asian supermarket. They’re an excellent substitution for fresh chillis, at times when chilli sauce just will not do. And hey, it’s not excessive to have 15 forms of chilli in the house is it?
This dip is supposed to be HOT. But you’ll have to decide for yourself how much chilli to add, based on your own tolerance for chilli and the type of chilli you use – their heat varies so much from one type to another. I used five pickled red chillis, and could probably have gone to seven without it being too much. I do like it hot though.
This recipe calls for fish sauce. If you like it and you’re not vegan, great. For everyone else, check out Vegan Miam’s ingenious recipe for vegan fish sauce. I made some to use in this recipe and it worked well. It’s nowhere near as strong as regular fish sauce, so I used 3 tbsp (compared to the 1-2 tsp of regular fish sauce I’d otherwise use in this recipe). Clearly, it’s not made of fermented fish, so it doesn’t have quite the same funk factor – but it does work well to add some of the umami base that you need in a dip like this one.
You’ll need a food processor or a large mortar and pestle to make this dip.
Lao style eggplant dip
- 2 large eggplants, (or 5 thin)
- 2 tbsp oil of your choice
- 4 cloves garlic, skin on
- 2-7 hot red chillis, to taste, fresh or pickled
- 1 cup of coriander, roughly chopped, cilantro
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1-2 tsp Fish sauce, (1-2 regular fish sauce, or 2-3 tbsp vegan fish sauce)
- Preheat oven to 220C fanbake.
- Cut eggplants in half lengthways, slit the surface with a knife and brush with oil. Roast for about 20 minutes, or until soft and well browned on the surface. Add garlic cloves (skin on), and chillis (if you're using fresh ones) for the last 5-10 minutes of cooking. You want everything to get a bit of colour, and even a bit of charring around the edges.
- Allow eggplants to cool, then remove flesh from skins and put in the bowl of a food processor.
- Squeeze garlic from the skins and add that to the food processor too.
- Add garlic, chilli, coriander and salt. Pulse to roughly combine. Don't over do it - you want this dip to have some texture (and not turn into soup).
- If you're using a mortar and pestle, smash together everything but the eggplant first. Then add the eggplant and gently smash it together with the other ingredients.
- Starting small, add fish sauce of your choice and taste. Adjust flavour with more sauce, to your liking.
- Serve as part of a Lao or Asian themed meal, or as dip with your favourite corn chips or rice crackers. Goes well with plain black corn chips.