Grilled Eggplant Salad in Coconut Milk

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During our celebration of Guam’s Liberation Day last week, our fiesta plate with Red Rice and Guam BBQ Chicken was served with this grilled salad of eggplant in a spicy lemon and coconut marinade, called Finadene Birenghenas in Guam’s native language, Chamorro (from Leblon Finatinas para Guam [Guam Cookbook]). The best eggplant for this salad are the long thin Oriental eggplant seen here. These can be found in abundance in the Islands most of the year. Off-island, Asian markets will usually carry them.

When we lived overseas, I often longed for these thin-skinned and quick cooking eggplants, which do not require skinning or salting as their round Continental cousins might. Our favorite way to prepare them is to grill them. Whenever we grill, T will also throw on 5-6 of these beauties even when they will not be part of that day’s meal. Once cooled, the eggplants are peeled and ready in the fridge for a variety of future salads and meals. When peeling, avoid the temptation to rinse the eggplants under running water — rinsing will wash out much of the prized smoke flavor in the vegetable. This is true for all grilled or char-broiled vegetables you peel before using, such as bell peppers or tomatoes.

I think of this dish as a salad, but it’s not the kind of salad you would want to eat alone. Usually this is served as part of rice meal with barbecued or roasted meats and seafood, although I love it with just a big scoop of red rice and finadene sauce, too. The smoky flavor of the grilled eggplant is first tamed with the sweet coconut milk, then lifted with the lemon juice and peppers. It is surprisingly light-tasting and refreshing, despite its seemingly heavy ingredients. If you already like the smoky, meaty flavor of eggplants in
baba ghanoush, you might enjoy the variation on that flavor which this salad will bring to your table.

This recipe is going out to the award-winning Sig at
Live to Eat, who is hosting the “Grill It!” event for the Monthly Mingle begun by Meeta at What’s for Lunch, Honey? Grill fever can’t help but sweep the northern Hemisphere while the short weeks of summer are in full swing, and I hope this delicious salad will too!

Adapted from
Leblon Finatinas para Guam [Guam Cookbook]
For 3-4 servings

6-7 large thin eggplants (about 1.5 lbs/680g)
oil to coat eggplant

Pre-heat grill.

With a sharp knife, pierce skin of each eggplant in 4-5 places to prevent the eggplants from bursting while on the grill. Lightly coat each eggplant with olive oil.

Place eggplants over high heat to char, and cook until eggplant is completely soft, with no spongy areas (spongy = still not cooked through). Time will depend on the size of the vegetables. Remove from heat and allow to cool enough to handle. Holding the stem end, remove peel by pulling downwards — peel should come away easily, leaving the vegetable flesh intact. Once eggplants are peeled, they can be refrigerated 3-4 days for later use.

To finish salad:
1/2 to 1 onion, sliced thinly
Juice of 1 lemon
sea salt to taste
ground black pepper, to taste
1-3 donne peppers, aka Thai bird chilies (optional)
1/2 cup coconut milk
scallions for garnish

Combine onions, lemon, salt, peppers, and coconut milk. Allow to sit for 30 minutes while you prepare eggplants.

Cut peeled eggplants crosswise into bite-size chunks. Taste coconut milk mixture and correct for salt, if necessary — it sould be lemony and slightly sweet. Add eggplants and gently combine to distribute flavors. Garnish with green onion rings.

Serve with roasted or grilled meats and seafood, and rice. (Serve with
Red Rice and Guam BBQ Chicken for a real Guam fiesta experience.)

Other Island Fresh produce on this site: Melons, Watercress, Mustard Cabbage, Warabi, Daikon, Beef, Corn, and Choi Sum


What's in the Pantry: Penne with Tuna

It's still pretty damp and dark, but the worst of the weather seems to be behind us (knock on wood!). Unfortunately, many folks on the Leeward (west) Coast and the North Shore are still without power because the electrical company still has to string up new lines to the 30 resurrected utility poles that were downed by yesterday's gusty winds. As the veteran of many many Super-typhoons (maximum sustained winds over 150mph) growing up and living on Guam, I feel their pain. It's usually at least a few weeks following any super typhoon before our village (Dededo, in the north of the island) would get power back. But in 1976, we had no power for 4 months after Supertyphoon Pamela came directly over Guam, THEN reversed direction and came back directly over the island again! Her 200mph winds in the eye wall hit the island in 2 directions so devastation was pretty widespread. So to make a short story long, this legacy has left it's mark on me in terms of disaster coping.

One mark has been to get creative with the canned goods we usually stock. Depending on how exotic your pantry stock is, you can make some really wonderful hot meals to get you through a power shortage. (Suggestions for how to stock a Basic, Expanded, or Exotic Pantry are offered in the "
In the Pantry" section.) So starting with a Basic Pantry, if you've got canned tuna, canned tomatoes, some capers and/or olives (and maybe some anchovies) you can make this Penne con Tonno (penne with tuna). Of course, you don't have to wait for a power outage to try this — we made it with the fresh tuna our neighbors gave us in last month's post, and it's an easy meal-saver when you only have 30 minutes to put dinner together on a weeknight.

So light the candles, open a nice bottle of wine and you'll almost be sorry when the power does come back on!

(for 2 persons, but easily doubles and triples)

1 clove of garlic, minced
TBL. olive oil (don't skimp on the oil, it will coat and flavor the pasta)
1/2 cup (or more, to your taste) olives (green, black, mixed), chopped or left whole
2-3 TBL. capers (I don't rinse for this recipe, but you can)
1/2 can (8oz/225g) diced tomatoes (pictures show roasted cherry tomatoes because that's what we had on hand that day)
2 anchovy fillets (you won't taste them in the final dish, I promise)

1 can (6oz/170g) tuna in olive oil, or water

1/2 box (230g) farfalle (bowtie), penne, or other pasta shape
sea salt
flat-leaf parsley for garnish (optional)

Put water on to boil for pasta.

Saute garlic in oil over medium heat. Once garlic is fragrant, add olives, capers, tomatoes, and anchovies, and stir until the anchovies dissolve. Add tuna (including oil if using tuna in olive oil), and cook over low heat at least 10 minutes, with pan covered. (The last picture shows this same sauce made with fresh tuna.)

Cook pasta until barely al dente (cooking time will vary depending on pasta shape). Drain well, but don't rinse.

Turn heat to medium high for the sauce, move the sauce ingredients to the edges creating a hole in the center, and add hot pasta to the center. Fold sauce ingredients over pasta and coat well. Turn heat off, cover and let rest for 5 minutes while you open a bottle and set the table. Garnish with parsley, if using.

What to pack for a visit to Guam

The "Lost in English" gang in Macerata, Italy are studying in an intensive English course and they're doing a meme about "what to pack for a visit to my hometown." It's a great way to get to know a little bit about Italy from insiders. I hope you give their site a look.

They've tagged all blogs (this means you too) to tell them about their hometowns. So far, someone from Maine has written to them. Now I'd like to share my hometown (island). No, not Oahu. Guam!

Where is Guam? Guam is an island on the 13' Latitude, which puts it in the North Pacific, about a 3 hour flight from Japan or the Philippine Islands. It's the western most U.S. territory, but is the first place in the U.S. to see the sun rise (hence, Guam's motto, "Where America's Day Begins") because it's across the International Date Line from Hawaii and the U.S. mainland (Sorry Maine ... )

What to pack for a trip to Guam?

Your swimsuit and sun protection: you'll want to spend the day on the beach and in the water, scuba diving, wind surfing, jet-skiing, sailing, or just enjoying the sandy beaches. Guam doesn't have too many surf spots. sorry.

Your appetite: Portions are generous and Guam has dishes that are unique in the world: start with a fiesta plate of red rice, chicken kelaguen (lemon coconut chicken salad), and BBQ ribs and chicken; and be sure to try the fried rosketi and melt-in-your-mouth guyuria cookies (a legacy of Guam's Spanish and Portuguese influence) before you go. But Guam is also a melting pot of cultures and cuisine: Filipino, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, even Italian and Mexican!

Your sense of adventure: Take a rental car and drive yourself around. Guam is a place with a lot of history. It was discovered by Europeans (the Chamorro people were already there) when Magellan arrived in 1521; it was traded to the U.S. by Spain at the end of the 19th century; it was occupied by the Japanese during World War II and liberated by the US Marines in 1944. Visit the Guam Museum and the War in the Pacific National Historical Park to learn more. Also stop by the Latte Stone Park -- I don't think anthropologists are completely sure what purpose these ancient stone formations served, but they have become an icon of Guam's culture. (BTW, in this case, Latte rhymes with "batty," it's not pronounced like the coffee drink!)
Money (US$): The tourist areas of the island are largely resort areas (Hilton, Hyatt, etc etc) and prices are comparable to those here on Waikiki. But if you've packed your sense of adventure then you'll get away from the touristy areas!

Words to know before you go: "Hafa Adai" (hof ah-day) is Guam's equivalent of "Aloha"; the local indigenous population are "Chamorro," but residents of the island are "Guamanian" (I've heard Guamese, Guamolian, Guambat, and Guamer (in Germany), but these are all incorrect!)

For a virtual tour of the island, visit the Guam Visitors Bureau tour pages, or see highlights of Guam's historic places.