Saturday, July 26, 2008

Weekend Wokking with Tomatoes!

And I thought the potato was hard to deal with, but in a way, the tomato is even harder!

As of this post, this lone tomato is the only one I've been able to harvest from my garden. Soon enough, I'll be rolling in tomatoes.

Oh, I could think of a million things to do with it, but most of them don’t involve cooking, at least not this time of year. Right now, the most appealing thing I can think of is to pick a sweet little sungold off the vine and pop it in my mouth. However, that wouldn’t make a very interesting post and since I’m hosting Weekend Wokking this month, I thought it’d look better if I actually made something. As luck would have it, I found a recipe in my Food of Thailand book (see right side bar) that looked interesting and for which I had all the ingredients. I love when that happens.

I’m no history expert, but I’m pretty sure the tomato is not native to Thailand and is not widely used in Thai cooking. However, it makes an appearance in a few dishes, such as som tom, hot and sour soup, and Thai-style sweet and sour pork. It seems to be more widely used in Thai restaurants here in the States, where I’ve seen it served in fried rice and even pad kee mao. I’m not a purist, so I don’t mind at all.

The one thing to consider about stir-frying tomatoes is the ripeness of the tomato. I prefer to use harder tomatoes. In fact, those picked-before-their-peak, store-bought tomatoes usually work well because they have firm flesh. They will soften without dissolving, if you know what I mean. Using riper tomatoes will give the stir-fry a little more of a tomato-y sauce. It’s all a matter of preference, really.

I should also talk a little about the other ingredients in this dish because they are special as well. The first is Thai eggplant. Most of you have probably encountered these before. For those who haven’t, it’s a small round fruit (vegetable??) with an eggplant flavor. Usually the green and white ones are available, but there are some that are completely white and even some purple ones. These varieties have a lot of little seeds, but they are completely edible. I think they give a pleasant crunch to the dish, kind of like fish eggs on the outside of a sushi roll. Unlike it’s bigger, more familiar relative the purple eggplant, it is less spongy. Some people may find that steaming Thai eggplants for 5 to 10 minutes (depending on size) gives a nice soft texture. Usually I’m too impatient to do this. I just cut them into quarters and add them to the food, allowing an additional 5 to 10 minutes to cook. If you can’t find Thai eggplants, you could certainly use the more familiar purple kind or the Chinese purple eggplants. The only difference to the dish would be the texture.

The other ingredient is Chinese black vinegar. Often I see recipes say that balsamic vinegar can be used as a substitution. I would be hesitant to use balsamic though. The Chinese vinegar is a lot sweeter and much less acidic than balsamic. It’s also made of rice and not grapes. I suppose in a pinch you could use balsamic, but use less to account for the acidity.

Now for the dish…it’s tasty! I’m not saying that to be snobby. I was actually quite surprised. It was the first time I’d made it, and I was a little nervous scanning over the list of ingredients. I mean, two tablespoons each of palm sugar and Chinese black vinegar??!! I figured it would be way too sweet, but it turned out wonderfully balanced, both in flavor and texture. The flavor of the ginger comes through nicely too. For this particular dish I used firm cherry tomatoes, which I left whole. They held up to the stir-frying quite well, not tearing and releasing their juices. The result was an explosion of sweet tomato flavor with each bite. Just be sure to let the stir-fry cool slightly otherwise you’ll get a very hot explosion of flavor! If you want a saucier stir-fry, try cutting up the tomatoes.

BTW, the chicken is totally optional in this dish. I added simply because I had some to use.

Spicy Thai Eggplant and Cherry Tomato Stir-fry
adapted from The Food of Thailand
serves 3 to 4 adults
  • ¾ pound Thai eggplant, cut into halves
  • roughly ½ pound cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tbs fish sauce, plus a couple of splashes to prepare the eggplant
  • 2 tbs Chinese black vinegar
  • 2 tbs palm sugar (or 1 tbs brown sugar)
  • 1 tsp to 1 tbs sambal oelek (this completely depends on your tolerance for heat)
  • 1 tbs minced ginger
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 chicken breast or two thighs, thinly sliced for stir-frying (optional)
I normally don’t pre-cook my Thai eggplants, but I did this time, so I recommend you doing it. Toss the eggplant halves with a couple splashes of fish sauce and steam them for 5 minutes or so, until they soften a bit. You don’t want them to be mush. When done, remove them to the side until needed.

While the eggplant is steaming, make the sauce by combining the fish sauce, vinegar and sugar in a small bowl. Stir to dissolve the sugar.

In another small bowl, combine the sambal, ginger, shallot and garlic. These will go in the wok at the same time, so it’s just as easy to put them together ahead of time.

Heat your wok over high heat until very hot. Add about 2 tbs oil and when that begins to smoke, add the chicken. Stir-fry it for about a minute or two, just until it’s almost done. Remove to a bowl.

Add more oil to your wok if necessary. Throw in the sambal mix and stir-fry until fragrant, about 20 seconds or so. Make sure it doesn’t burn. You’ll know your doing it right if you start to cough on account of the chili hitting the wok. ☺

Throw in the eggplants and tomatoes. Combine with the sambal mix, but don’t over stir or you’ll break the tomatoes. Once the vegetables appear to soften slightly (about 2 minutes), add the chicken back in. Toss a little, then add the sauce mix by drizzling it down the sides of your wok. It should caramelize fairly quickly due to the sugar content. Coat the chicken and vegetables with the sauce and once the chicken is cooked through, you’re done! Remove to a plate, immediately, but allow it to cool for about 5 minutes before digging in.

Serve with steamed jasmine rice.

If you’re interested in participating in Weekend Wokking, there’s still time! Send me your entries before midnight on the last day of the month. If you can’t make this round, check out whose hosting in the future. And check out Wandering Chopsticks; she’s the one that started it all.

Added: Check out the round-up!


Manggy said...

Hey, I made something for this! I haven't posted it yet, though :) I'm all for dishes that are sweet and spicy, so I'm not threatened by a palm sugar-black vinegar-sambal combo-- it sounds great to me! :)

Paula said...

Oh gosh, this looks great! I've ordered pad kee mao often, and the tomatoes are my favorite part. When all the tomato hub-bub was going on last month, I missed the tom's in my Thai! I've not seen a Thai Eggplant, but will keep an eye out. And,lastly, my garden tom's haven't turned red yet. Not one. I'm going to have to look into fried green tomatoes soon!

Wandering Chopsticks said...

Oooh, another recipe for Thai eggplant. I either eat them raw with VNese fermented anchovy sauce or in Thai green curries. I didn't know Thai cooking used Chinese black vinegar.

Dee said...

manggy, I'm positive you will like this!

paula, I hope you get a chance to try Thai eggplant. They have a nice texture. And like WC, they can be eaten raw, unlike the big purple ones.

WC, I eat them raw with fermented shrimp dipping sauce (naam prik kappi). Great minds think alike, huh? :-) As for the black vinegar, I've never used it in Thai cooking, only Chinese. This dish shows the Chinese influence on Thai food.

Just Cook It said...

I love that photo of the solitary tomato. Also, I bought some thai aubergines from the Chinese supermarket yesterday so I'll certainly be giving this a go.

food makes me happy said...

I've never work with this kind of tomato before,
It's time to give it a try since your dish looks so dang good!

Anonymous said...

I'd like to participate in this month's Weekend Wokking...but just one question. Do you need separate photos submitted of a certain size?

Dee said...

Cindy, I just used store-bought cherry tomatoes. Even those have a lot of sweet flavor.

AppetiteforChina, I sent you an email to answer your question.

Anonymous said...

Just for fun info (and yet amazing): both tomato and chili pepper originate in the Americas, in the area of Peru, specifically. Tomatoes work their way up to Mesoamerica, and then are dispersed around the world via trade/colonization, and so on. The same with chili peppers. Life in Thailand (just for beginners) without chili peppers, unimaginable, and yet fairly recent.

Just Cook It said...

Hi DP - I couldn't find your email address but just wanted to let you know that I've passed on the Arte Y Pico award onto you. Details can be found here:



Dee said...

Charlotte, all new info to me! You're right, unimaginable about the chili peppers. Thanks!

Alex, thank you so much. I'm truly honored.

Nate @ House of Annie said...

Looks really good.

I wouldn't substitute balsamic vinegar for Chinkiang black. The balsamic would really throw the flavor off.

Dee said...

Nate-n-annie, I completely agree with you about the vinegar. I would probably prefer to use kecap manis spiked with a little rice vinegar instead of balsamic.

tigerfish said...

I made tomatoes with chicken too! Hahahha! We are in sync :D

Just sent you my entry via email. I'm not sure if you will get it in Inbox since I've got feedback about my "lost" emails before :)twx

Alicia Foodycat said...

That tomato picture is beautiful!

I make oxtail tom yum (not very authentic, I suspect) but the thing that makes it really special is a couple of wedges of fresh, peeled tomato. There is something about the fresh acid sweetness that is just so right with the Thai flavours.