Thai Eggplant: A Popular Thai Food Ingredient
This golf ball look-alike is one of the most famous Thai food ingredients. Thai people eat them just about as often as Americans eat potatoes. Unlike other eggplants, the Thai eggplant can be eaten raw and is usually paired with spicy dips. Some people call it "round eggplant" but in Thailand, we just know it as "ma keua praw." Ever since I moved to California, I haven't got to enjoy my beloved Thai eggplants very often at all. Even big Asian grocery stores don't always have them. Yet, last Saturday was my lucky day; I found them and brought home a bunch. Sorry, I won't let you get your hands on any of these, but I'm happy to share my knowledge about them and teach you how to select, store, and cook them properly.
On average, the Thai eggplant is about 1.5 inches in diameter and looks pretty similar to a golf ball with a stem. The color can be medium green, pale green, or white with green stripes. What makes it unique is the crunchy texture and mild flavor. That's why it can be enjoyed raw without removing the skin. Typically, this veggie has a bit of a bitter taste. This bitterness cis sometimes stronger when the plant is over-matured.
As for the aroma, Thai eggplants have a very neutral smell when raw and develop a bit of an earthy scent when cooked. Believe it or not, although eggplants are generally used and regarded as vegetables, they are biologically classified as fruits! Well, I don't care what plant biologists say, I will always see these as veggies. I just can't help it. Even at a supermarket, we don't usually find eggplants right next to apples and grapes, do we?
Buying, Selection, and Storage
In Thailand, these are a common food ingredient, but here in the U.S., they're very unusual vegetables (or "fruits" as plant biologists would say). Mainstream supermarkets don't usually have them. Your best bet is to look for them in an Asian grocery store. Sometimes you may find them in a farmers' market as well, but you'll have to look for a stall that sells Asian vegetables.
The younger and fresher the eggplants are, the better they taste. As I've said earlier, over-matured eggplants usually have a more bitter flavor. Plus, they tend to look too brown and unappetizing on the inside. To make sure you select the freshest ingredients, take a close look at the stems. They should be green rather than brown and firmly attached to the eggplants. Then check the firmness and color—select only the ones that are very firm and don't look yellowish.
The best way to store these delicious things is to keep them in the bottom compartment of your refrigerator. Fresh eggplants can be stored for up to a week. However, if you have no choice but to buy slightly over-matured eggplants, you should plan to use them within three days.
How to Use Thai Eggplants in Dishes
- Eat Them Raw: Eating raw round eggplants with spicy dips is the easiest way to enjoy them. Just rinse them, remove the stems, and slice or cut them into small wedges. Then get ready for an eggplant feast!
- Curry Them: The Thai eggplant is a common ingredient in green and red curries. There's no need to remove the skin at all. In fact, the skin of these veggies can lend a very interesting texture to a curry dish. What I particularly love about them is that they really absorb the flavor and aroma of the other ingredients they're being cooked with. They take quite some time to become tender, though, so you'd better slice them thin if you want a quick meal.
- Add Them to a Stir-Fry Dish: Thai people use these round eggplants in stir-fries a lot, but not just any stir-fry. For some reason, they're only used in spicy stir-fries. You can try stir-fry Thai eggplants with meat, basil leaves, and red or green curry paste. Start by sautéing some minced garlic with some curry paste. Put the eggplants into the hot skillet the same time as the meat or right after, then cook until they're very tender. Add the basil leaves and some salt or fish sauce at the end, then just toss it together quickly. This delicious dish can be done in just about 20 minutes!
© 2011 Om Paramapoonya