I had a couple of Chinese eggplants that needed to be eaten. If cooked in oil, eggplants soak up it (that’s partially why they are so tasty). So, stir-frying them or roasting them with a drizzle of oil would likely eat up more than half of the daily oil limit of DASH diet. I wasn’t sure what to do with them. That is, until I remembered the grilled eggplant salad we like to get at Thai restaurants. That sounded like the perfect low-fat solution to my eggplant conundrum.
I decided to roast the eggplants whole in the oven without the oil, and use the Japanese technique of quick-poaching über-thinly sliced meats to further reduce the fat content. This technique, called shabu shabu, somehow retains the meaty umami but drains away a lot of the fat in just a few quick seconds. It’s a perfect technique for DASH eaters! I threw in a bunch of Thai herbs for good measure, and the result was a bright, refreshing and satisfying salad with creamy, earthy eggplant chunks and umami-packed beef slices.
Thai Eggplant & Shabu Shabu Beef Salad
DASH benefits: This bright and savory Thai eggplant and beef salad uses oil-free roasting and quick-poaching techniques to drastically reduce the amount of oil. Lots of different textures and flavors keep every bite interesting: The creamy eggplant, crunchy cabbage, savory beef, refreshing lime, slightly kicky chili and bright herbs. Since the sodium content is on the high side, I’d pair it with plain jasmine rice for a light but satisfying dinner.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. (I used my small toaster oven.)
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil.
Poke a few holes in the eggplants to prevent them from bursting in the oven.
Roast the eggplants on a pan for 20 minutes. Check for doneness. They should feel limp and a knife inserted in the middle should feel no resistance.
While the eggplants roast, place the cilantro, basil, red onion, scallion and jalapeño in a large bowl.
Mix the fish sauce, brown sugar, lime juice and olive oil in a small bowl to make the dressing.
Poach the beef slices in the boiling pot of water for 10-15 seconds each, until just cooked through.
Add the beef to the bowl of vegetables.
When the eggplants are cooked through, cut them into bite-sized rounds or half moons. Add them to the bowl of vegetables and beef.
Pour the dressing over the eggplant mixture, add a few generous grinds of white pepper, and toss to combine. (You’ll likely have some leftover dressing.)
Place the shredded cabbage in salad bowls. Place the eggplant mixture on top. Top with fried shallots, if using.
*I buy my meats from Korean and Japanese stores when I need them sliced super-thin. (I'm talking as thin as delicate deli meats, if not thinner.) I've tried asking neighborhood American butchers for custom thin slices, but they tend to be still too thick for shabu shabu poaching method. If you don't have easy access to Korean or Japanese store, your best bet is to use ground beef, pork or chicken instead. Poached shrimp works, too (and that's actually pretty authentic, according to a Thai cookbook I have!).
Leftovers: Actually the Best Part!
The eggplant mixture actually improves overnight. Like, way better. I had the eggplant salad minus the cabbage (plus a couple of cocktail tomatoes) for lunch the day after, and the extra marinating time really did it wonders, especially the eggplant that soaked up all the flavors of the dressing and the herbs. I highly recommend making this salad (up to step 10) the night before, if you can pull if off.
Grill ’em, If You Can
The salad would be even better if you can roast the eggplants on a charcoal grill. This is how it’s done in Thailand and some Thai restaurants in the US. Smoky char really adds to the overall complexity of the salad. Sadly this isn’t an option for me, given the lack of outdoor space in my NYC apartment. I should try adding some smoke powder next time.
There’s a lot of flavors going on in the roasted pumpkin and chorizo black bean quinoa bowl: Hearty black beans, caramelized sweetness of the roasted pumpkin, a bit of heat and Tex Mex zing from jalapeño and chili powder, the bright acidity from tomatoes and lime juice that lightens up the whole thing. On top of all that, just a small amount of Mexican smoked chorizo lends an amazing depth and savoriness to this almost-all-veggie bowl. It’s a complete meal in one bowl, but thanks to all these flavors and a variety of textures, you won’t get bored till the very last bite!
In our home, the recipe below yielded 2 dinner servings, plus about ⅓ cup of black bean-quinoa mixture left over. I’m thinking that it’d be awesome in a quesadilla format… I can even toss in the remaining roasted pumpkin I still have in the fridge. (It was a big pumpkin.)
Roasted Pumpkin & Chorizo Black Bean Quinoa Bowl
DASH benefits: This pumpkin and black bean quinoa bowl has a lot going for it from the DASH perspective: A ton of vegetables, sweetness without the added sugar (roasted pumpkin, I love you!), amazing meaty flavor from a tiny bit of chorizo. Aromatic chili powder and tart lime juice also reduce the need for extra sodium to create a satisfying flavor profile. This quick and economical bowl is also packed with a good amount of lean protein: Both black beans and quinoa are high on the list of great plant sources of protein.
Place the quinoa with 2 cups of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil on high. When it reaches a boil, turn the heat down to low and simmer for 13-14 minutes or until all the water is absorbed.
While the quinoa cooks, heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add the onion, jalapeño and chorizo. Sauté on medium heat until the onion is slightly browned.
Drain the can of black beans and add 1 cup of the beans to the skillet. Sauté for a few minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning, until the liquid is mostly gone. Season with chili powder. Taste, and add salt and pepper of needed.
In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin, tomato, scallion and cilantro. Drizzle with the juice of one lime half and extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine.
To the skillet of black beans, add the cooked quinoa and stir to combine. Taste, and add salt and pepper of needed.
Line two salad bowls with torn lettuce leaves. Add the black bean-quinoa mixture. Top with the pumpkin-tomato mixture. Cut the remaining lime half into two and place on the side of the bowls.
*Any pumpkin or winter squash would work here. Sweet potato and yam would be lovely as well.