MUCH ADO ABOUT AUTHENTICITY

I’ve never cooked Thai food before, but when I found beautiful slender eggplants and fresh basil at the farmer’s market this weekend, I knew I had to give it a go. The recipes I saw for Basil Eggplant were pretty consistent, involving eggplant seasoned with garlic, fresh chili peppers, fish sauce, sugar, and Thai basil, served on white rice. In my pantry I had dry Szechuan chili peppers and the type of basil ordinarily destined for pesto, but I didn’t have any rice. I did have vermicelli noodles, which I imagined with some Madras curry. One voice in my head, the voice of Authenticity, said sternly, “Don’t you dare make a classic Thai dish with Chinese peppers, Italian basil, and Indian curry.” Another voice, the voice of Freedom, said, “It’ll still be delicious — why not?” I decided to go for it and was glad I did. This dish was vibrant, soulful, and — taking only 15 minutes to prepare — a definite keeper.

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BASIL EGGPLANT with CURRIED VERMICELLI 

3 small bundles (4 g) of dried vermicelli noodles
a few tablespoons of your favorite curry powder/sauce
grapeseed or vegetable oil
4 cloves of garlic, peeled & sliced
2 fresh (or 4 dried) chili peppers, sliced
3 Japanese eggplants, roll-cut
about 2 tbsp. fish sauce mixed with 1 tbsp. sugar
a pinch of salt
a heaping handful of fresh basil leaves

Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the vermicelli, cooking for 2-3 minutes. Drain the vermicelli but retain about 1/2 a cup of the hot water. Stir in a few tablespoons of curry (how much will depend on the type of curry powder/sauce you’re using), adding more until it’s to your taste. (I preferred a subdued curry vermicelli, but you can add soy sauce and chili oil if you like) Stir in a teaspoon of grapeseed oil. Heat oil on medium-high heat in a large wok or non-stick frying pan. Add the garlic and chili peppers and fry until fragrant. Add the eggplant along with a cup of water and cover for 5-7 minutes until all the water is absorbed and the eggplant is translucent. If needed, add a bit more water and cover again to finish cooking the eggplant. Now gently stir in the fish sauce-sugar mixture plus a pinch of salt and cook for 1-2 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the basil leaves. Serve the basil eggplant on top of the curried vermicelli noodles.

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