A trip to the wet market never fails to turn up something new. This morning's visit to Temerloh's always enjoyable Pekan Sehari ('one-day' market - Sunday mornings only) was no different.
Today every other vegetable vendor, it seemed, was displaying small piles of hairy eggplant. We'd seen 'bald' versions of these bristle-haired vegetables in Thailand, where they're called ma-euk; in Nan we learned to squeeze their innards into nam prik kapi (shrimp paste 'dip'). But we'd never encountered them with their fur (we didn't know they have fur), so we didn't know what we were seeing.
Malays call this member of the Solanum genus buah terung asam, or sour eggplant 'fruit'. The vendor who sold us our tumpuk (pile) told us the hair could be easily removed with the blade of a knife (she was right - a matter of a few gentle scrapes), and a fellow customer shared a recipe for a hairy eggplant condiment to eat with rice.
Once we got home I gave the lot a good shave and wash and then ate several uncooked, out of hand. Raw, this variety of eggplant that Malays call a fruit tastes nothing at all like a vegetable. It's thin-skinned and juicy, pleasantly sweet-sour, and has a somewhat floral essence reminiscent of passion fruit.
The rest I put in a pan with water to cover and added asam keping (the dried slices of a green fruit called buah asam that give Malaysia asam laksa its hallmark sourness), a few chilies, and a hefty pinch of salt. After the liquid came to a boil I allowed the eggplant to simmer for just a few minutes, removed the pan from the heat, and let the vegetables cool in their water bath. Cooking brought out the eggplant's vegetal flavor, but they still retained quite a bit of sourness. This will indeed be a delicious piquant accompaniment to a plate of rice and a rich, coconut milk-based Malay curry.
You might find shaved hairy eggplant at Thai supermarkets, fresh or frozen. Definately worth a try, raw or prepared as below.
Hairy Eggplant Condiment
a few slices of asam keping or other souring agent, such as several lime leaves or a teeny knob of tamarind
chilies, as many as you dare - sliced down the middle for more heat
a generous pinch (or more, depending on how many eggplant you have) of salt
1. Place eggplant, asam keping (or other souring agent), chilies, and salt in a small pan. Add water to cover.
2. Bring the water to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer a few minutes. The eggplants are done when they give to pressure. Remove from heat and let them cool in the liquid. Store in the refrigerator but serve at room temperature, on their own or with rice.