This humble-looking dish delivers incredibly bright flavor for very little effort. Fancier versions involve topping the salad with sautéed ground pork or chunks of crabmeat. But I prefer this rendition—less work and more reason to appreciate the simple, rustic deliciousness of this dish.
Yield: 4 servings
3 slender purple Asian eggplants (about 1½ pounds total)
3 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced fresh hot chiles
1 tablespoon thinly sliced green onion
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh mint
First, roast the eggplants. Prick each one all around with a fork or the tip of a sharp knife to discourage it from bursting as it roasts. Then place the eggplants on a hot grill. Or place an eggplant right on the burner of a gas or electric stove, over low to medium-low heat. Turn the eggplant as it browns and puffs, roasting it as evenly as possible, until it is fairly soft and blistery brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool, and cook the remaining ones the same way.
When the eggplants are cool enough to touch, peel them gently, holding them under cool running water, when necessary, to get the job done. You can leave them whole with the stem attached, or discard the stem and chop the eggplants into big pieces. Place the eggplants in a small, shallow serving bowl and set aside.
Prepare the sauce, combining the fish sauce, lime juice, water, and sugar in a medium bowl. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Stir in the garlic and chilies, and then pour this sauce over the eggplant. Scatter the green onion and mint over the dressed eggplant and serve at room temperature.