If you keep a jar of Vietnamese sauce in the fridge, cooking a vegetable side dish to go with meat or seafood like this pan-grilled eggplants with nước chấm is a breeze.
Vietnamese sauce is, of course, nước chấm, a mixture of fish sauce, citrus juice, sugar, chilies and garlic. It’s a basic sauce that can be used for marinating, cooking and as salad dressing. Add water and it becomes nước mắm pha, a dipping sauce.
Lime juice is the default for the citrus juice. At least, I thought so until we attended a cooking class in Saigon. Apparently, calamansi is just as good. Fortunately for us, when our kaffir lime tree isn’t bearing fruits, calamansi is always plentiful in the market.
No access to lime nor calamansi? Lemon juice is okay too.
Pan-grilled Eggplants with Nước Chấm (Vietnamese Sweet Sour Spicy Sauce)
For the nước chấm
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons lime juice or use calamansi or lemon
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
- 2 pinches chopped garlic
- 2 pinches finely sliced chilies
To complete the dish
- 2 large Asian eggplants (the long variety)
- 2 tablespoons sesame seed oil
- sliced chilies
- fried garlic
Make the nước chấm
- Place all the ingredients for the nước chấm in a jar. Cover tightly and shake until the sugar is fully dissolved. Set aside.
Cook the eggplants
- Cut off and discard the top of the eggplants. Cut each eggplant vertically into halves. Cut each half vertically into four then cut the eggplant strips into shorter pieces about two to three inches long.
- Heat a frying pan and drizzle in the sesame seed oil to coat the bottom.
- Spread the eggplant strips in the hot oil. Leave to sear for a minute then flip to sear the opposite side. Cook the eggplants just long enough to soften; do not allow to turn soggy. Three to four minutes of total cooking time should be enough.
Assemble the dish
- Scoop out the eggplants and transfer to a platter.
- Drizzle the nước chấm over the eggplants.
- Sprinkle with sliced chilies and fried garlic before serving.