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Help get NZ cooking: Sambal eggplant with pork mince

TABITHA YAP
Last updated 05:00 06/11/2012
Sambal
JUNKIE: Sambal belacan, you'll be addicted.

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NEED TO KNOW

Main ingredient Pork
Type of dish Asian
Course Main course
Cooking time <30 min
Serves/makes 4
Special options Vegetarian

Sambal is typically a chilli-based paste or sauce with plenty of variations. It's favoured in most South East Asian countries and even used in the Netherlands due to the Javanese influence.

In my motherland, Malaysia, we go absolutely mad for all sambals - especially Sambal Belacan (pronounced Be-la-chan).

It's primarily used as a condiment but, really, we can't help ourselves and so add it to just about everything.

In sambal belacan, fresh chillies are pounded together with toasted shrimp paste, sugar and (calamansi) lime juice resulting in a heady, savoury, spicy paste that isn't for the faint-hearted...or rather, the shy-snouted!

It's pungent pong, especially when it hits the pan, fills the house and transports you back to the dried fish markets of Asia.

However, once you've become acquainted to its intricate fragrance and its salty-spicy-soury-shrimpy sweetness, there's no turning back - you are a sambal belacan junkie.

Take my partner for example. When our kinship was still kindling, he'd scramble for the exit every time I popped open a jar of this, subjectively, fetid paste. And yet, through many suspicious encounters later, here and in Malaysia, he's now hooked (brainwashed? forced?) by its salivating properties.

So: start small. You can find bottled sambal belacan in most Asian grocery stores. Use it as a condiment or add to stir-fries and curries. If you haven't used it before, I would suggest starting with a teaspoon, adding more to taste.

Here is a recipe for a dish that I regularly make, which combines the punch of sambal with the eggplant's flavour-soaking properties. The pork mince makes it a wholesome meal, especially when served with steamed rice, however it can be excluded to make a vegetarian version.


500g pork mince
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp kecap manis (sweet dark soy sauce)
1 tsp cornflour
1 eggplant, cubed (2.5cm x 2.5cm)
French beans, sliced 2.5cm long and enough to fill two cups
1 spring onion, finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced or finely chopped
3 shallots, sliced
1 cup curry leaves, preferably fresh
2-3 fresh red chillies, sliced (optional)
1 tbsp deep fried shallots (optional)
2 tbsp peanut oil
1½ tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp sambal belacan (more or less, as you prefer)
1 tsp sugar (preferably grated palm sugar or dark cane)
Water for sprinkling
Pepper

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1. Marinade mince with Worcestershire sauce, light soy sauce, kecap manis, cornflour and a good pinch of pepper. Leave to mingle in the fridge for at least 30 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.

2. Heat wok over high heat and then swirl in peanut oil until almost smoking. Stir in garlic, shallots and ½ cup curry leaves, frying until fragrant - about 1 to 2 minutes.

3. Add in mince and continue stir-frying quickly for another 4 minutes - you want the meat to brown nicely, not stew in its juices.

4. Toss in eggplant, sambal belacan, sugar and a sprinkling of water. Continue frying until the eggplant is almost cooked, that is, when it's almost transparent and squishy. This should take about 5 minutes or so. When needed, sprinkle in more water to keep things moist.

5. Stir in French beans, red chillies, oyster sauce and the remaining curry leaves. Stir-fry for another 2 minutes or longer if you prefer: I like my beans on the bright green and crunchy side.

6. Add in spring onion and a crack of pepper and stir for another minute.

7. Turn heat off and plate immediately with a sprinkling of fried shallots. Serve with steamed rice.

OTHER NOTES:

For a non-meat version, simply use sliced firm tofu instead with the same marinade but leave out the cornflour. Stir in the tofu before adding in the beans etc...

You can find kecap manis, curry leaves, palm sugar and deep fried shallots in your local Asian store.

Instead of a wok, you can also use a deep, non-stick fry pan.

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