Mar 14

Eggplant in Spicy Shrimp & Belachan Paste



Eggplant in Spicy Belacan Paste copy




Food like this eggplant in spicy belachan paste is what I call authentic Malaysian cooking. It is the kind of food that people would cook as part of their daily meal at home. A spicy spice paste is sauteed until fragrant and then the eggplant pieces are tossed in this paste to coat. The dish may be “peasanty” and simple but the flavours pack a lot of punch thanks to the use of dried prawns and the shrimp paste.



Belachan‘ is what Malaysians call this shrimp paste, and it is an essential ingredient used in southeast Asian cooking throughout the region; Thai, Burmese and even Vietnamese cuisine make use of this paste. Sometimes it is used to make a dish and sometimes to make a dipping sauce for vegetables. Belachan is made by fermenting tiny shrimp (krill) in a briny solution then cooking them and pressing them into patties or blocks for ease of transport. Belachan is sold either fresh or sun baked for days until they become hard and dry.






To use belachan at home for cooking simply break of the amount you wish to use and pound it into a paste along with the other aromatics like chillies and onions. If making a dipping sauce then you’ll sometimes need to dry roast it further before you mix it into the sauce. Different places sell belachan of varying qualities and in Malaysia if you want good belachan you need to visit the seaside towns and villages that specialize in this stuff, usually Melaka on the west coast or Kelantan and Terengganu on the east coast. It is widely believed that belachan enhances one’s appetite (tambah selera) and increases one’s joy of eating the meal. In Malaysia this dish would be called Sambal Tumis Terung Belachan.







Eggplant in Spicy Shrimp & Belachan Paste.


1 whole Thai eggplant

2 shallots

3 cloves garlic

1 inch ginger

1 tbsp dried shrimp

1 cm belachan piece

bunch of corrinder stalks

100 mls water.

4 dried chillies, soaked (or 1 tbsp chilli paste from a jar)

1 – 2 tsp sugar




So let’s get started. Slice up the eggplant into logs and rub some salt into them to remove some of the bitterness from the skin. It is said that skinnier and longer eggplants such as the Asian varieties do not have this problem, only the darker and rounder European eggplants do. I don’t know coz I have never paid much attention to the Asian variety before.



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Then we cook em partially before adding them to the spicy shrimp paste mix later. Traditional recipes will often say the eggplants need to be deep fried in oil to soften them but that makes them far too oily. Eggplants have the ability to soak up large quantities of oil during cooking, so what I do is I pan fry them in a little bit of oil then I splash in some water, cover with a lid and steam them for about three minutes. This helps cook them out without the added calories.



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Remove the eggplants and drain off the liquid into a separate bowl. We will use this liquid later to make our spicy sauce. For the aromatics I use a combination of shallots, garlic, ginger, coriander stalks and, depending on how I am feeling, I may even add in a lemongrass stalk … but it’s totally optional. Roughly chop the onions, garlic, coriander and ginger and place them in a mini chopper. If using rehydrated chillies, go ahead and add those to the blender as well. Pulse until you get a very fine chop. Next add in the dried shrimp and the belachan. Pulse again to produce your pungent (yet oh-so good) paste.



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Heat some oil in a pan and gently fry off the paste in about 2 tbsp of oil. Always keep the paste moving and control your heat when frying spice pastes of any kind. Once you burn it you’ll have to start from scratch for there is no saving them. Once they get fragrant and turn about a shade darker, add some of that reserved cooking liquid from the steamed eggplants.



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Taste the sauce and add the sugar accordingly. It is important to balance the flavour of the dish with sugar, otherwise it will feel very one dimensional and a bit flat. Very rarely will salt ever be needed in a recipe like this because the dried shrimps and the belachan paste will provide plenty of saltiness on its own. Now gently return the half-cooked eggplants to the sauce and toss to coat. This will only take your about two minutes. Now your dish is done, and you can serve with rice.



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So I cooked this for lunch yesterday and over-estimated my tolerance for spicy food. I was being greedy, seeing as which I have not had food like this in AGES, so I took a big bite out of the eggplant along with a generous smear of the chilli paste. Within seconds my eyes started to well up and my tongue caught on fire. I swallowed the mouthful then I ran for some water … but the flavour of this dish was spot on. I could not have been happier with my efforts in reproducing this local favourite for the first time on my own. In a somewhat masochistic way I continued to take spoonfuls of this potent dish until there was none left on my plate. I would have gone for seconds but by then my mouth was numb, so I saved the rest for dinner.  🙂



The flavour however, did not impress the boyfriend in any way or form. I offered him a taste of the chilli paste to which he promptly spat out.  *rolls eyes*

He felt it the most vile tasting/ smelling dish he’s every had the misfortune to sample. He ran to the kitchen sink to rinse out his mouth. Ahhh … the antics of white people. In his defense tho, if you haven’t grown up eating fermented shrimp paste as part of your daily food intake, then chances are you will react in exactly the same way he did. The funny thing is he doesn’t complain when I cook laksa. The fact that belachan is added to my laksa stock produces no reaction from him. Weird.



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Anyway, do try this dish if you’re game enough or if you are familiar with southeast Asian cooking (and love it). To all my Malaysian readers and followers … you know you want this for dinner tonight, so knock yourselves out. Eating this with fried fish on the side … omg! Best combo everrrrrrr! It’s the kind of meal that would have you throwing away the cutlery as you dive in to eat local-style …. with your fingers. Jemput jamu selera, y’all!



~ Enjoy! ~





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