Nuoc mam pha, the sweet, tangy, salty and spicy Vietnamese sauce, is so versatile that it goes well with spring rolls, grilled meat and seafood, salads and vegetable dishes. But because it contains fish sauce, I use a modified version — with sea salt instead of fish sauce — for vegetarian Sam’s food.
In this vegan eggplant dish, a whole eggplant was diced, tossed with oil and grilled in a non-stick pan. When the eggplant was partially cooked, the sweet-tangy sauce was added and the diced eggplant finished cooking in the liquid just long enough to soak up the flavors.
For best results, a few tips:
1. Use Asian eggplant which is sweeter with no bitter undertones.
2. Make sure that the pan is hot before spreading the eggplant slices in it to make sure that they get seared. If the pan is not hot enough, the eggplant slices will steam rather than brown and that will make them soggy and difficult to flip.
3. Eggplant continues to cook in the residual heat from its own flesh even after removal from the cooking pan. Do not wait for the eggplant slices to turn too soft before moving them to a plate.
Make the sauce by mixing together the salt, kalamansi juice, chili, ginger, garlic and sugar with about four tablespoonfuls of water.
Cut off and discard the top end of the eggplant. Split lengthwise then cut into half inch slices. Toss with the palm oil.
Heat a non-stick pan. Arrange the eggplant slices, cut side down, in a single layer. Cook over medium-high heat for about two minutes or until nicely browned. Flip the eggplant slices over and cook for another two minutes.
Flip the eggplant slices again. Pour in the prepared sauce. Boil gently for a minute. Turn the eggplant slices one last time. Boil for another minute.
Transfer the cooked eggplant slices to a plate. Drizzle any remaining sauce over it.