When I'm feeling particularly poorly or over-indulged, it's usually this dish I want to make. Served lukewarm or at room temperature, the aubergines are cooked twice and then covered in a sweet, spicy, sour dressing, tinged with fish sauce and smashed through with garlic - basically, nuoc cham.
Originally, the recipe came to me with the aubergine grilled whole until collapsed, the insides scraped out and mashed through with the dressing. I experimented with this version by flame-roasting it against a gas burner before peeling, creating a smoky result. Too smoky, even, and too rich for my tastebuds that cried out for something lighter. So I took it back to basics; for me, aubergines get their best texture when you give them a good double cooking. Slim Asian aubergines were split into four lengthways, their flesh held together by the stem at the top. Fried for a few minutes in hot oil so that their skins are blistered and curling, they are then transferred to a oven dish and placed under the grill to ensure the insides are soft and silky.
Coriander is fairly essential for this, with perhaps mint being of less importance - I've made it without, but it is better with.
Grilled Aubergines with Nuoc Cham
Serves 2 with other dishes
3 Asian aubergines or use a normal aubergine cut into fingers
4 tbsp vegetable oil
A handful of coriander
Half the amount of mint
Slice the aubergines lengthways into 4, keeping the stem intact so it holds the aubergine together. Heat the oil in a wok until almost smoking, turn the heat down to medium and fry the aubergines well, turning occasionally. Do not burn. Set aside, laying the aubergines in an oven dish. Cook under a medium grill for 20 minutes, turning the aubergines half way through.
Chop the mint finely, and the coriander roughly. Set to one side. If you have roots on your coriander stalks, wash them well, chop them finely, and add them to the pestle and mortar to be ground into the nuoc cham sauce.
For the Nuoc Cham:
Essentially, this sauce should be made as you like it. Keep tasting and adding as some will prefer it more sour, some sweeter, some more or less spicy. This is how I like mine.
1 bird's eye chilli (use more if you like it really hot, less if you don't)
1 fat clove of garlic
2 tsp brown sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp water
In a pestle and mortar, crush the clove of garlic with the sugar until it is a smooth paste. Deseed the chilli and chop it roughly, then add to the mortar and give it a good pestling. Add the lime juice, mix well. Add 1 tbsp of fish sauce, taste. Add 1 tbsp water, taste. Keep doing this until you have the desired piquancy or pungency that you like. Remember you can always add but you can't take away.
To assemble, place the aubergines in a dish while warm and pour the dressing over. Garnish with the chopped mint and the coriander, and serve with rice.