A friend recently posed the question "If you could only eat one country's cuisine for the rest of your life, what would it be?" on his Facebook page. I didn't even pause to think before responding "THAILAND!" I find the unique combination of hot, sour, salty, and sweet that give Thai food its distinction is utterly addictive in its freshness, complexity, and depth of flavors.
This salad is a perfect example. You start with a bed of fresh greens and a generous amount of fresh herbs – basil, cilantro, and mint. Then you add some sliced scallions or chives, top with nutty, sweet, roasted eggplant and toss the whole thing in a dressing that is a mouth-watering balance of tart, sweet, and spicy.
Toss the sliced eggplant with lots of olive oil and sea salt, then spread them out on a couple of heavy baking sheets and roast, flipping once in the middle to ensure even cooking. The roasting turns them into something you'll enjoy eating right off the tray – they get soft and kind of caramelized with a wonderful, nutty flavor that is at least as good as meat.
The scallions provide a nice counterpoint to the sweetness and softness of the eggplant slices. I like to chop them fairly finely to distribute the flavor and avoid getting any overpowering bites of allium.
Fresh basil, mint, and cilantro – the holy trinity of Thai herbs – give the salad a delightful pop with little bursts of flavor happening all over the place. I am so happy to be able to go outside and snip these straight from the garden again after the long winter. Feels so luxurious! I'm trying out a pretty purple basil (the variety is called dark opal) this year and so far, I am a big fan.
And the greens make a nice, fresh bed for it all.
The dressing ties it all. Lime juice provides all the acid you need. Then you add some fish sauce (substitute soy sauce, if you're a vegan or vegetarian or allergic), some brown sugar, a jot of Sriracha, and a little finely chopped ginger and garlic.
Pour that dressing over it all and devour it. Sometimes I add some chopped toasted peanuts for a little crunch, too, but it's up to you. SO GOOD!
Thai Eggplant Salad with Fresh Herbs & Greens
2 medium eggplants, ends removed, sliced into rounds or half rounds (the slender Asian eggplants are the best if you can find them)
3 scallions, washed, ends removed and finely chopped
4-5 cups of fresh greens – lettuce, arugala, tatsoi, baby spinach, etc., washed, dried and ripped into bite-sized pieces
2 cups fresh herbs – equal parts cilantro, basil and mint, rinsed, dried, stems removed and coarsely chopped or ripped
Olive oil and sea salt for roasting
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts (optional)
For the dressing:
Juice of 3 limes
2 teaspoons fish sauce (sub soy sauce if you do not/cannot eat fish)
1 teaspoon Sriracha (you can also use another hot sauce if you prefer or half a jalapeno with the seeds removed – if you like things hot, feel free to use more)
1 tablespoon brown sugar or palm sugar
1 small clove of garlic, minced or pressed
1 teaspoon chopped ginger root
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a medium-large bowl, toss the eggplant slices with a lot of olive oil (eggplant is like a sponge so do your tossing quickly to help ensure that the oil gets distributed evenly before it gets absorbed) and several generous pinches of sea salt. Turn the eggplant slices out onto two heavy baking sheets and lay them out in a single layer. Roast for 15-20 minutes then remove the trays and flip the slices over. Return them to the oven and roast for another 10 minutes or so before removing them to cool.
2. Make the dressing. Just mix all the ingredients together in whatever order you like and stir or shake well until the sugar has dissolved. Taste it and adjust the flavors, as needed.
3. Lay the greens and herbs in your serving bowl and top with the eggplant slices (you can either use them as is or cut or tear them into smaller pieces). Sprinkle with the chopped scallions and peanuts (if desired), add the dressing and serve.
Related post on The Garden of Eating: Grilled eggplant tomato stacks with feta and basil