On Asian Food Channel, there is a Malaysian cooking show that I can watch with the audio off. Yep, the talkies are in Malaysian but there are subtitles. I love that show although I can’t even remember its name. The cook is a middle-aged woman who often wears her native garb. It is from her that I learned how to sauté, Malaysian style. Roast (not applicable to all spices) and grind the spices to a paste then sauté until the paste separates from the oil — a process which takes patience because the sautéing is done over medium rather than high heat and it takes a while before the paste separates from the oil. But the result is just magnificent. And with that basic technique as the starting point, you can do a thousand different dishes using different combinations of spices for the paste.
This chili eggplants dish was cooked using that technique. The eggplants were cut, flash fried then drained on paper towels. The spices were ground to a paste then sautéed until the paste separated from the oil. Then, the eggplants were thrown back into the pan and stir fried just until heated through. So simple. And so inexpensive with basic ingredients like garlic, ginger and chilis. And yet, the cooked dish has such deep and bold flavors. Really, never underestimate the benefits of sautéing as it brings out all the lovely flavors and aromas of spices.
- Heat the cooking oil in a wok or frying pan.
- Cut the eggplants vertically into halves, then cut each half horizontally into two.
- When oil is hot, flash fry the eggplants (see What is flash frying?).
- Drain on a stack of paper towels. Set aside.
- Pour off the oil from the pan leaving only about two tablespoonfuls.
- In a blender or food processor, grind the shallots, garlic, ginger, chilis and patis until pasty. If the machine won’t run properly, add a few tablespoonfuls of water to help it along.
- Reheat the oil in the pan.
- Over medium heat, sauté the spice paste until the color deepens and the paste separates from the oil. This takes about ten minutes so be patient. You have to stir once in a while just so the paste along the edges don’t burn.
- Taste the paste. Adjust the seasonings, if needed, adding more patis or sugar, or both.
- Add the eggplants back to the wok or frying pan. Toss gently to coat each piece of eggplant with the spices. Cook just until the eggplants are heated through.