I’m still on a bit of a high from the weekend. Saturday night I went to SNL with my dad. We both stayed up way past our bedtime to go to the after party following. During the show, I was giddy when Bradley Cooper came out for a surprise appearance, and perhaps irrationally even more excited when Jamie Lanister dropped in on a Game of Thrones skit that had Zach Galafenakis in full dragon costume. But the real excitement came at the after party, when for a total of 3.5 seconds, Jon Hamm’s smoldering eyes locked with mine and burnt a hole in my soul.
But onto the food…
I get invited to various cookbook and food press events all the time, but I rarely go to them unless I’m really excited by the product at hand. This was certainly the case last week when Prosciutto di Parma celebrated their anniversary at Osteria Morini and I got to eat Chef Michael White’s arancini and pile my plate high with 5 different ages of cured meat. It was also the case back in the fall when I got invited to the book party for Chef Charles Phan of Slated Door in San Francisco.
I’d never been to the restaurant before and have heard amazing things. So I went out of my way to try his Vietnamese cooking (for free….!!) and bring home the book so I could try my hand at some of his recipes at a later date. I immediately went through and post-it-ed all the things I wanted to make, but still that date ended up being much later. A few weeks ago, in fact.
The best thing I ate at the book party was a smoky sweet eggplant and leek mixture served in bite-sized portions on small rice crackers. Since I never really know anyone at these parties, I usually end up talking to the catering staff. The secret to this dish, according to one of the chefs, was that the eggplant was grilled. This is something I love doing when making baba ganoush, and I couldn’t wait to try it for a dish in the pan-Asian category.
I’ve been chomping at the bit to be back near a grill. Now finally, Memorial Day seems like it’s around the corner. I made this eggplant-leek dish on my stove-top grill. You can also easily roast the veggies if you aren’t yet ready to walk outside to make dinner. I ended up serving the mixture as an entrée inside lettuce wraps with a little jasmine rice to round out the meal.
The cookbook is great if you’re into Vietnamese food and love fish sauce as much as I do. I’ve been dying to make traditional rice crepes for this blog and there’s a good one in the book, so stay tuned for those as well.
Happy Meatless Monday!
Vietnamese Eggplant and Leek Lettuce Wraps
- 2 medium eggplant about 1.5 pounds, sliced lengthwise ½ inch thick
- 2 leeks white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise
- 1 bunch scallions
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 teaspoon siracha or other Asian chile paste
- ½ cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
- 1 head boston or bibb lettuce leaves
- 2 cups cooked white rice
Set an indoor grill pan over a high flame or fire up a charcoal grill. Brush the eggplant with oil on both sides. Grill the eggplant in batches over high heat, rotating 90 degrees halfway through cooking, until soft and nicely charred, about 4 minutes per side. Remove to a plate to cool. Repeat the grilling process with the leeks.
Trim the bottoms off the scallions, drizzle with oil, and grill until very wilted and nicely charred, about 2 minutes per side. Be careful not to let them slip through the grates.
While the veggies are grilling, combine the soy sauce, sugar, lime juice, and siracha in a large mixing bowl. Whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
When the veggies are cool enough to touch, roughly chop them into 1 inch pieces. Add them to the soy mixture along with the cilantro and toss to combine.
Serve the eggplant-leek mixture alongside the lettuce leaves and rice and allow guests to serve themselves.
Variation: if you don’t have a grill, you can roast the veggies in the oven. Omit the scallions. Cut the eggplant into 1-inch pieces. Toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil and turn out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast in a 425 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until soft and deeply caramelized. Thinly slice the leeks and toss with another tablespoon of olive oil. During the last 15 minutes of cooking, add leeks to the pan with the eggplant.