During our trip a few years ago to Luang Prabang, in Laos, we were blown away by a fiery herb and eggplant dip the locals called Jeow Mak Keau. We have long sung the praises of the eggplant, especially when making Middle Eastern food. But this recipe shows the eggplant’s versatility with Southeast Asian heat. The key is to “burn” the eggplant, just like you would while making baba ghanoush or our burnt eggplant soup.
In Laos, when we made this dip as part of a cooking class at Tamarind Restaurant, we literally threw the eggplants (and most of the other ingredients) right onto hot coals. Of course, unless you have a charcoal grill out back, that is hardly possible in most New York home kitchens, so just follow our eggplant-burning technique from our baba ghanoush recipe: place the eggplants directly in the flame of your stove top burner or gas grill, or broil them in the top shelf of your broiler to cut down on the mess some.
Your reward here is a deliciously smoky and spicy dip. In Laos, they eat it with sticky rice, which is, of course, delicious. But when we made it here in New York, we used some standard black rice that we got in Chinatown. It would also be great with a simple corn chip, pita, naan, or really anything at all!
Jeow Mak Keau - Spicy Laotian Eggplant Dip
- 2 small Japanese eggplants or if you can't find those, one medium Italian eggplant
- 1 Thai or other preferably Asian chili pepper
- 2 cloves garlic
- ½ cup cilantro
- Dash of fish sauce
- 1 small scallion light green parts only, minced
Burn the eggplant. If you have a charcoal grill, poke a few holes in each eggplant with a fork and place them directly on glowing charcoal. Or to do it inside, carefully line the base of a gas burner with tin foil, leaving only the burners exposed. After poking a few holes in the eggplant place it directly on the burner for about 3 or 4 minutes per side, until the skin is black and flaky. (Alternatively, broil the eggplants close to the flame; it’s almost as good, and less messy).
Do the same for the chili and garlic. Make sure NOT to peel the garlic yet.
Once the eggplant, chili, and garlic are burned, remove them from the heat and let cool a bit. Carefully peel the garlic and add it and the chili to a mortar and pestle and pound with about ½ teaspoon of salt. Then add the eggplant and cilantro and pound until a soft paste. (Alternatively, use a food processor or even mince by hand).
Add fish sauce and minced scallion to taste.
Mix well and serve with black rice, sticky rice, or, really, anything that dips.