IHCC: Feel the Heat – Thai Beef with Eggplant~

11 08 2012

The best way to cool off is to overheat yourself with chiles…it causes you to perspire without physical exertion.  It’s about as hot here as it gets, so having I Heart Cooking Clubs select “Feel the Heat” as cooking inspiration for the week was pure serendipity!  How fortunate for me that I’ve been on a Thai kick for a couple months now…

The chiles at the Farmers’ Market were gorgeous!  We had a great chat about how to use them green as well as red.  She told me to come back in a couple weeks when the red ones were ready… I’ll bet one bunch is more than enough red chile paste for a year for the two of us!

I chose this dish because the chiles are the key to the enjoyment factor of this dish.  Thai Bird Chiles are one of the hotter chiles, yes, right up there with habaneros.  You have to develop a tolerance to the heat.  Be gentle.  You can add heat in other ways and at other times.  I taste tested one of the green chiles…still searingly hot to my palate, but I could taste the difference between this and what I’m used to with the red chiles.  Kind of like the difference between a green and red jalapeno…only intense!

Thai Beef with Eggplant~

1/2 pound chuck steak (carne asada beef without seasonings)
2 small round eggplants, cut in 1 inch wedges
1/2 package medium rice noodles
2 scallions (green onions), sliced and separated: white for cooking; green reserved for garnish
2 limes
2 Tablespoons fish sauce
1 Tablespoon palm sugar
1- 3 tsp. Tamarind paste, or to taste
3 cloves garlic, slivered
1-4 Thai bird chiles, or to taste (be careful…)
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro leaves

Rice bran oil for cooking

Beef marinade:
Juice of 1 lime from above
1 Tbsp. fish sauce, also from above
1 clove slivered garlic from above

Cut beef across the grain into thin strips about 2 inches long.  Combine ingredients with beef and refrigerate 20 minutes.  Start noodles soaking.  “She Simmers” recommends soaking rice noodles in room temperature water until they are pliable and will wrap around your finger without breaking.  Drain and set aside, but don’t allow them to dry out.  I often cut the noodles 3 times with scissors before I cook them.

In a small mortar, grind the garlic and Thai chiles (Serrano chiles may be substituted) to a paste.  Add the palm sugar and make a smooth paste.  Transfer sauce to a small bowl and add fish sauce and tamarind paste to taste.  You want a balanced sweet-salty-hot-sour kind of flavor.  This is highly subjective.  I start with 1 Thai chile, sliced very thinly, and work the paste until I almost can’t stand the heat.   Mixed with the rest of the ingredients, it usually balances out pretty well.  It’s easy to add extra heat with chile paste, but I haven’t found an effective way to take the heat out yet!

Remove the tops from the eggplants, and cut in half from top to bottom.  Turn onto the cut side and cut in half from top to bottom again (4 quarters).   Cut the wedges across the equator of the eggplant into 1 inch long pieces, or as close as you can get to it.  The idea is to have pieces the same size so they’ll cook at the same rate.

When you have everything together, pull out your trusty wok or some cooking vessel that will give you the same heat retention and release that the wok will…  Heat your pan over high heat, add a little oil to the pan (rice bran oil has a higher smoking point than peanut oil) and sear your eggplant pieces.  Remove from the pan.  Add a bit more oil and stir fry the drained, marinated beef.  Cook, stirring the wok and tossing the meat, until the meat is no longer pink.  Add oil to the pan, and add the drained noodles.  They will cook with the moisture they absorbed while soaking.  Toss the noodles in the hot oil with the cooked beef for a few moments.  Add the eggplant and toss to distribute.  Drizzle cooking sauce onto the whole and toss to mix.  Place each serving into a bowl and garnish with green onions, lime wedges and chopped peanuts if desired.  This was enough for 2 adults as a one-dish meal.

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