This is a recipe that is derived from a dim sum favorite. Dim sum restaurants make a similar dish using long Japanese eggplant sliced on a bias, sandwiching the shrimp stuffing between pieces of eggplant. It's a dish that is both attractive and delectable.
One of the many benefits of the extensive and diverse population of immigrants in California is the impact it has had on local agriculture and markets. Each immigrant community brings its own flavors and accents to the communal table. Thirty-five years ago fish sauce was a rarity, found only in Filipino markets. In Sacramento, we've seen each wave of immigrants, from Vietnam, Laos, Mexico, El Salvador and Soviet-block countries to Afghanistan and Iraq, open markets to serve the tastes of their communities. The farmers markets offer produce that was unknown here ten years ago. One such offering is baby eggplant.
Similar in taste to Japanese eggplant, baby eggplant may be dark purple, light purple, or variegated purple and white. They range in size from that of a medium egg, sometimes smaller, to several inches in length. They're great in Thai curries, in salads, or simply grilled. Stuffing them with a shrimp mousse and frying them makes for a tasty and visually appealing main dish. With a side of stir-fried greens and some steamed rice, you've got yourself a nice dinner.
Terung Isi Udang
1 pound peeled, deveined shrimp
3 green onions, green part only, finely chopped
1 tsp salt (plus more for salting the eggplant)
1 TBS rice wine
2 1/2 tsp cornstarch
Peanut or vegetable oil for frying
Make 4 cuts in the eggplants from bottom to top, so each eggplant is essentially quartered lengthwise but is still intact near the stem and calyx. Spread the eggplant open and sprinkle with salt. Set aside for twenty minutes or so while you prepare the shrimp filling.
Place the shrimp in a food processor and pulse until the shrimp are coarsely chopped. Add the chopped green onions, salt, rice wine and cornstarch. Pulse several more times to mix the ingredients thoroughly.
Squeeze and wipe the eggplants with paper towels to remove the excess salt and moisture. Holding them open, spoon in the shrimp mixture.
Heat about 2 inches of oil to 350º F in a wok or fryer of your choice. Fry the eggplant in three batches, frying four at each time and maintaining the temperature. Each batch should take around four or five minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. You may keep the first batches warm in a low oven (200º F) while cooking the remaining eggplant if you wish.
These may be served with a simple sauce of chicken stock with some ginger, green onions, and tausi (fermented black beans) slightly thickened with cornstarch, but they also taste good with nuoc cham, the sambal of your choice, or just on their own.