I used to not like eggplant. I didn’t like it cold and I didn’t like it hot. I didn’t like it roughly chopped in big chunks and pickled in vinegar and olive oil or battered, fried, and layered with cheese and marinara sauce—none of it really appealed to me. And as much fun as it is to say “Baba Ganoush,” mushy eggplant mixtures were the worst; bitter, weird colored, and—as I imagined—the consistency of an oyster bowel movement. Gross, I know. And I’m sure my aubergine aversion was simply the result of being a kid with an immature palette, but even today, when I see it in the grocery store, I avoid it like the plague.
Don’t get me wrong. I now love eating eggplant. In college I swapped the spicy eggplant with tofu for my usual orange chicken at a Panda Express, thinking it was the “healthier” option, and poof I was a convert. Immediately I had a newfound appreciation for the purple produce. But that’s just it. It’s only good when prepared well, and there are so many ways to screw it up. To cook with eggplant, you have to understand its moisture content. You also need to avoid the really big ones with seeds, because those can be bitter and fibrous. Depending on your cooking method, the skin can be a blessing or a curse. This all to say, I’ve always found eggplant to be a high anxiety vegetable….probably, because I don’t use it enough and it intimidates me.
So you can imagine my surprise when one was thrust upon me by our most recent CSA delivery. Nestled behind a bunch of nantes carrots and underneath some rainbow Swiss chard was this deep purple purse staring at me, literally egging me on. Imagine that scene from Coneheads where Jane Curtin freaks out in the grocery store and panics at the pile of eggplants. Yeah, that was me.
So I procrastinated, and chose to deal with it later. While I waited for inspiration to strike I did what any respectable home chef would do—I hid it in the fridge. I found a place, the rear of the vegetable crisper next to a gallon Ziploc bag of rotten herbs that I’m too scared to touch because I know it’s going to be slimy, and smell like vomit when I do; where I wouldn’t have to see it for awhile. That bought me a few days, but eventually its presence in the fridge gnawed away at my conscience, and overwhelmed me with guilt. And rather than shy away from the challenge of an ingredient I’m not so comfortable with, I chose to meet it head on. I accepted my duel with the lone eggplant and I beat the shit out of it with a brown rice curry buttermilk batter that’s light and full of flavor. And this recipe is what came of that throw-down.
Fresh Thai Spring Rolls with Brown Rice Buttermilk Fried Eggplant
For the peanut sauce:
- 2 tblsp fresh lime juice
- ½ cup smooth creamy peanut butter
- 2 tblsp almond butter
- 1 ½ tblsp soy sauce (regular or low sodium is fine)
- ⅓ cup water
- 2 tblsp chili sauce (like Sambal)
- 1 clove of garlic pressed
- 1 tblsp golden brown sugar
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp molasses
- 2 tblsp buttermilk (or coconut milk)
For the batter:
- 1 ⅔ cup brown rice flour (can use regular rice flour if you want) separated
- ½ tblsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp curry powder
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp onion powder
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 cups buttermilk
For the fresh spring rolls:
- 1-2 cups vegetable oil for frying
- Rice paper wraps
- 1 package Vermicelli rice noodles
- 1 bunch of fresh mint
- 1 bunch of fresh cilantro
- 1 cup julienned carrots
- 4 green onion stalks julienned into 3 inch long pieces
- I head of romaine lettuce
- Sprouts (optional)
- Canned pineapple (optional)
- 2 limes sliced into wedges for squeezing
Prepare the vermicelli noodles per the package instructions and rinse with cold water. Once drained, place them in a bowl and cover them with plastic wrap so they don’t dry out. You can keep these in the fridge or at room temperature while you move on to the rest.
For the peanut sauce, mix all the ingredients in a small saucepot over low heat.
Cover the saucepot and let cook, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes. Make sure the mixture doesn’t burn, and when smooth and creamy, turn off the heat and let it sit, covered, until you’re ready to eat it. If the peanut sauce it too thick, add water, a tablespoon at a time, until it reaches your desired consistency.
For the batter, pour the 2 cups of buttermilk in a shallow dish and set aside.
In another shallow dish, whisk together⅔ cup brown rice flour and the rest of the batter dry ingredients and set aside.
Pour enough vegetable oil into a cast iron skillet on the stove until you have a ¼ inch thick layer of vegetable oil and turn the burner to medium-high.
While the oil is heating up, which should take a good 5-7 minutes, peel the eggplant with a vegetable peeler. Trim off a little bit of the top and bottom pieces, and slice the remaining eggplant into sticks that run the length of the eggplant and are ½-¾ inch thick.
Eggplant tends to oxidize quickly when exposed to the air, so you’ll want to immediately dredge the eggplant sticks in the dry ingredients. Rub the dry mix all over the eggplant, making sure not to miss any spots.
The brown rice flour mixture is what will cause the buttermilk to stick. As you repeat this process there will be clumps of flour and buttermilk that collect in the dish with dry ingredients. Add more of the brown rice flour as needed to make sure there’s enough to coat the eggplant sticks a second time. I find it’s easier to just shake the dish and let them roll around as opposed to using tongs to flip them around in the dry mix.
Working in batches of a few eggplant sticks at a time, drop the eggplant sticks coated in the brown rice mixture into the buttermilk and get them good and wet. I find tongs are helpful for this.
Then take them out of the buttermilk, letting the excess buttermilk drip off, before dredging them again in the flour mixture. This gives them a double coating which makes for a nice thick batter.
Drop the double-coated eggplant sticks into the hot vegetable oil, and fry them until they’re a dark golden brown all over, about 4 minutes on each side.
Let the fried eggplant sticks cool on a wire rack without a paper towel. A paper towel would steam the fried eggplants because it prevents air from circulating under the fried eggplant, and will render the batter soggy.
Repeat this process, adjusting the temperature of the oil as needed to avoid the eggplant from burning, until they’re done.
To assemble the spring rolls, you can dip the dried rice paper wraps in a bowl of hot water and then place them on a plate.
In the center of the wrap, layer the desired fillings. I like the crunch of the lettuce and carrots coupled with the vermicelli noodles, a fried eggplant stick, some mint, cilantro and green onions.
Squeeze some fresh lime juice on top and then do your best to roll them tightly into little egg rolls or mini burritos. It’s okay if you destroy a few until you get the hang of it.
And serve them with the peanut sauce and enjoy.
You can add bean sprouts to these, poached shrimp, pineapple chunks etc. It’s really up to you what goes inside!
What else can you do with eggplant?
Our friends over at Well-Being Secrets have been researching the many health benefits of eggplant for some time now, and in the process they compiled this list of their favorite eggplant recipes. Check it out for some eggplant inspiration.