I really like the restaurant Soju Girl in Canberra. I go on about this a lot, so this is not new information to long time readers. We celebrated my sister’s birthday there in June and we had an amazing sweet and sour, umami eggplant dish that was served on a share platter with a massive prawn cracker. You snapped off a bit of cracker and used it as a scoop to get that dark, glazed and totally moreish eggplant into your mouth. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it and then I remembered that I had these Vietnamese black sesame rice paper wrappers.
Usually you’d dip these into water to make soft and fresh rice paper rolls. Of course you don’t need to do this with black sesame rice paper wrappers, but they do look so pretty when used in a meal like this. You will have the best chance of finding dried rice paper rolls with black sesame seeds in an Asian grocer that has a good selection of Vietnamese ingredients.
I read somewhere ages ago that you could deep fry rice paper wrappers and they turn into a cracker.
I dubiously tried it and voila, after some serious oil spitting (watch out) they turn into a gloriously crispy cracker.
I used the skinny long eggplants for this dish, they were marked as Lebanese eggplants at Coles. You could also use the paler Asian eggplants and even the larger eggplants would work too. Cut the ends off and then cut them into baton-like shapes.
Shallow fry some eschalot (or onion) and some chunky pieces of garlic with some chilli flakes and the eggplants. Once the eggplants have coloured up a bit and have started to soften, you can add the sweet, salty, sour and umami sauce.
The sauce is pretty simple and if, like me, you cook a lot of Asian-style food, you will most likely have these in the pantry / fridge already. You’ll need equal quantities of rice wine vinegar, light soy sauce and mirin. Add some sugar and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Let the sauce come up to a hard simmer and then cook for 5 minutes or so until the sauce has reduced by about half and the eggplants are soft and covered in the delicious umami glaze.
So this is my version of Soju Girl’s delicious umami eggplant dish. To serve, place the eggplant and sauce onto the cracker, leaving some cracker exposed. Garnish with coriander and fresh chilli slices. Delicious as a vegetarian main or as a side. The eggplant and sauce reheats quite well too if you have leftovers.
Umami Eggplant with Black Sesame Rice Crackers – Inspired by Soju Girl
Ingredients – Serves 2 as a main, or more as a side
- 1-2 rice paper roll wrappers with black sesame seeds
- Vegetable oil for deep frying plus shallow frying
- 640g or about 5 long Lebanese or Asian eggplants
- 2 peeled and roughly chopped garlic cloves
- 2 peeled and roughly chopped eschalots
- Small pinch of dried red chilli flakes
- ¼ cup mirin
- ¼ cup light soy sauce
- ¼ cup rice wine vinegar
- 1 tbs plus 1 tsp of sugar
- Pinch of ground white pepper and salt
- Long red chilli slices to garnish
- Coriander leaves to garnish
- To make the crackers, heat 1.5 cms of oil in a heavy based pot that is large enough to fit 1 circular rice paper wrapper at a time. The oil needs to be heated to the point that when the end end of a wooden spoon is dipped into the oil, light bubbles form around it immediately.
- Once the oil is hot, using metal tongs, place the rice paper into the oil. Cook until it starts to crisp right up and turn a bright, white colour. This should take about 1-2 minutes. Be careful, as it will spit a lot. Turn over and cook on the other side for another 1-2 minutes.
- Drain well and then place onto a cake rack to cool. Crackers can be made well in advance and will stay crisp for at least a few hours after cooking.
- To prepare the eggplant, cut off the ends and then cut it into batons.
- Heat a small amount of vegetable oil in a frying pan over medium heat and then add the eggplant, eschalot, garlic and chilli flakes. Cook, stirring until the onion is quite soft and the eggplant has started to brown on the outside. This should take about 5 minutes.
- While the eggplant is cooking, add the mirin, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and a pinch of ground white pepper and sea salt flakes to a jug. Stir it vigorously to help to start to dissolve the sugar.
- Once the eggplant has been cooking for about 5 minutes and has started to colour on the outside, add the sauce to the pan. Let it come up to a hard simmer and then cook for another 5 minutes or until the sauce has reduced and thickened to a glaze which coats the eggplant.
- To serve, place the eggplant and sauce onto the cracker, leaving some cracker exposed. Garnish with coriander and fresh chilli slices. Delicious as a vegetarian main or as a side. The eggplant and sauce reheats quite well too if you have leftovers.