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Grilled Eggplant Salad

Kasma Loha-unchit, September 4th, 2009

Grilling Over Mesquite Adds a Rich Smoked Flavor to Spicy Eggplant Salad

One of my husband’s favorite salads of all time is Grilled Eggplant Salad (Yam Makeau Yao).

Prepping roasted eggplant

Prepping roasted eggplant

The hot tropical climate of Thailand lends itself to outdoor cooking. In fact, the kitchens of most traditional homes are in open shacks behind the main house. In the countryside, farmers still live in airy wooden houses on stilts, their kitchens in the open area beneath, or on the verandah. Besides making cooking more bearable in the heat of day, the openness of the kitchens and their separation from the main living quarters keep the fumes from charcoal stoves from smoking up the house.

Charcoal was the primary source of cooking fuel while I was growing up in Thailand. I remember the heaving call of the “charcoal man” as he pushed his heavy cart of black logs through our neighborhood each week. Mother would buy her load for the week, keeping the charcoal in a wooden bin in our kitchen behind the house and breaking the logs into smaller chunks when needed to fit into the different size burners. She trained me to be the fire starter, a duty I most enjoyed and learned to do with great proficiency. When we eventually converted to natural gas, our family enjoyed the cleanliness of the new convenience but missed the wonderful flavors that charcoal cooking added to food – whether grilled, boiled, or stir-fried.

Prepping roasted chillies

Prepping roasted chillies

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

Modernization has brought cleaner gas and electric cooking to urban areas, but country folk and the poorer of the urban population still rely on less expensive charcoal for their cooking. The charcoal is not highly processed and does not come in uniformly square briquettes as most Americans know charcoal to be; rather, they are irregular charred logs that, like mesquite, impart a delightful smoked flavor to food. Because of this, grilling and roasting over hot coals continue to be popular cooking techniques in Thai cuisine. Fine restaurants around the country know well to keep a section of their kitchens fueled on charcoal, and along city streets, sidewalk food vendors grill all kinds of food over wood coals – from chicken, pork, meatballs, squid on skewers, fish and sausages to bananas, corn, sweet potatoes and yams, coconuts and even whole eggs.

Assembling the salad

Assembling the salad

One of my vivid memories from childhood is helping Mother skewer and sizzle large green chillies over hot coals. These were followed by succulent eggplants, roasted and charred to perfection. Both were then skinned, cut up into bite-size strips, arranged beautifully on a serving plate and dressed with a limy hot sauce.

On those Indian summer days this fall, as you fire up your barbecue kettle or hibachi, grill up some eggplants and chillies along with your chicken and meat for a spicy, lip-smacking dinner.

Note: This recipe is one of my husband’s (Michael’s) all-time favorites. I taught it my weekend Series Set A (class 1). The pictures here are taken from the one of these advanced classes

See our website for more in Thai recipes.

This recipe is also available on our website (Spicy Mesquite-Grilled Eggplant Salad).

Spicy Mesquite-Grilled Eggplant Salad – Yam Makeau Yao

  • Mesquite charcoal and a small handful of mesquite wood chips
  • 4 long Asian eggplants
  • 4 jalapeño or fresno peppers
  • 10-15 Thai chillies (bird peppers), finely chopped
  • Juice of about 2 limes, to taste
  • 2-3 Tbs. fish sauce (nahm bplah), to taste
  • 2-3 tsp. sugar, to taste
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 lb. small fresh shrimp, shelled and butterflied
  • 1 hard-boiled egg, cut into small wedges (6-8 pieces)
  • A small handful of short cilantro sprigs
Dressing the salad

Dressing the salad

Start a batch of mesquite charcoal in a barbecue kettle and soak the wood chips. While waiting for the coals, trim the tops off the eggplants and the peppers. Make a hot-and-sour sauce by mixing together the chopped Thai chillies, lime juice, fish sauce and sugar. Let sit for the flavors to blend and mingle.

Prepare the remaining ingredients. Blanch shrimp in boiling water for 30 seconds to cook. Drain well and set aside.

Grill the eggplants and peppers whole over the hot mesquite, turning occasionally until they are slightly charred on the outside and have softened. For a stronger smoked flavor, add damp wood chips to the red coals and cover the barbecue kettle after each turning.

Place the grilled eggplants and peppers in a paper sack for a few minutes to steam. When cool enough to handle, peel off the charred skin and thin outer membrane. Cut each eggplant crosswise into segments about 1 1/2 inches long, each segment in half lengthwise, and each half in 2-3 strips, depending on the size of the eggplant. Arrange on a serving platter and spread the sliced shallots over the top.

Cut the skinned peppers into long, thin strips. Do not remove the seeds if you want an extra spicy salad. Arrange in an attractive design over the eggplants and shallots and top with the cooked shrimp.

Taste and adjust the spicy lime sauce so that it is equally sour and salty with a hint of sweetness. Spoon evenly over the salad. Garnish with egg wedges and cilantro. Serve at room temperature. Serves 6-8.

Eggplant salad detail

Eggplant salad detail

Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, September 2009.

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