Thai cuisine and North Carolina Barbecue has many similarities. The key element in any Thai dish is that salty, sweet, sour flavors all get blended together. What’s funny is that to achieve these delicate flavors, you’re combining very powerful seasonings. Seasonings that on their own would just crush most dishes. Pungent fish sauces, toothachingly sweet palm sugar, lime juice by the barrel full. A Thai cook is not so much a harmonizer as she is an animal tamer of these potentially violent seasonings.
Andy Ricker, a Portland native, has thought deeper into Thai flavors over the past 20 years than most Thai natives ever will throughout their lives. I was eating at his new restaurant Pok Pok in the Red Hook neighborhood in New York when I first encountered his eggplant dish. This was a charcoal grilled eggplant. Roasted over coals until black and smokey, peeled and lightly dressed with the holy Trinity of Thai seasonings. While I went there to sample his other signature dish, the grilled pork neck, this is the one I walked away with.
With whole hog barbecue the dressing is remarkably simple – cider vinegar, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and salt. The fat and smokiness of the pig provide the rest of the seasonings. So my version of the dish is to make it with a light Carolina dressing.
First off you need Japanese Eggplants. I’m sure you might be able to get away with regular large purples but it just won’t look very sexy. Lightly oil them and toss them on the grill and cook til charred and a fork slides through nicely.
For the dressing. You’re going to put in a bowl enought cider vinegar to coat every pit of eggplant. Add pickled chilies or your favorite hot sauce. Add sugar to taste. Add salt or Thai fish sauce. I used purple and lemon basil because a friend picked some fresh from his garden for me. But you can use any leafy herb. Just make sure you shower the dish with herbs.
To serve, peel off the charred areas and portion like my photo up top. Pour the dressing on top. Garnish with fresh herbs.