Saturday, November 8, 2014

Cà Pháo Chua | Fermented firecracker eggplants

Ok, true confession: I'm totally backlogged on posts; I've got posts I've been working on for over a year in the queue and a lot of posts scattered about in the drafts pile. Recently, I've been working on two university guest lectures about this little ole blog o'mine for this month and well, I'm pregnant (yay!) and have had the blahs when it comes to cooking and eating food, so things have been moving even slower than usual.

I'm taking a break (aka procrastination) in order to post a quick fall fermenting recipe. At the Farmer's Market, I discovered the mother of all eggplant booths. Every cultivar of (Asian) eggplant was there in all its farm fresh glory. Seriously, like a dozen varieties. It inspired me to pick up a pound or so of cà pháo | firecracker eggplant (aka S. macrocarpon, gboma or African eggplant) to make pickles. Yes, this has entirely something to do with me being pregnant. I am not, however, eating them with ice cream, not even the dairy-free Coconut Bliss Salted Caramel. I was tempted to pick up some green Thai eggplants and make somlah machou | Khmer eggplant stew, but instead we picked up some of the purple Japanese eggplants by my daughter's request for roasting and making a Thai eggplant mash that I learned from my former sister-in-law.

While I'm sure many varieties of eggplant can be pickled, these are the ones I'm most familiar with. They have a great crunch when pickled. I chose unblemished one-biters around the size of a large marble because I hate having residue on my lips especially with mắm.  My girlfriend Tuyền makes a delicious Mắm cà pháo--which are pickled firecracker eggplants with fermented shrimp or fish sauce (and yes, I've been cajoling her to write some guest posts because she is a slammin' cook. Dagnabit, just thinking about her reminds me of bagoong dip with fruit and now i have a craving and will just have to content myself with guava & chipotle salt)--but this time around I decided to keep it simple. I've gotten into the habit of making everything a little plainer because my daughter cannot tolerate spicy and I need way more sea salt in my diet than my husband so I made the simple brine version even though the odds are I will be the only one to eat them. I can always add the mắm & chile before eating. Next time I get to the Farmer's Market though, I'll give it a try because baby loves mắm.

Typically cà pháo chua are eaten with a few days of pickling. To get the full benefits of fermenting and the probiotics, I will let them go for 28 days. (Come back in three weeks or so to see the pix of the end result.) A
nother common "cheat" to make pickled veggies is to use vinegar. While you get the sour, and instant gratification, you lose the beneficial probiotics and the unique fizzy/zingy tang of fermenting.

Unlike Western pickled eggplant recipes, these do not need to be blanched or cooked. If you are concerned about browning, you can drop the eggplants in a bowl of water, lemon juice and salt while you are cutting them up and let it soak for an hour or two. I'm lazy and any browning is negligible to me.

You will also need a .5L Fido jar or 1 quart mason jar (see my previous discussion on fermenting jars) and a weight. I use a flat, landscaping river pebble that I bought from a rock store (yes, those exist) for $5.50 for 50 lbs that was left over from a kids' craft project (let me tell you, give kids a rock and some paint and they will go to town); I've sterilized the rock in boiling water. The weight keeps the veggies below the water line and therefore airtight. Veggies that are exposed to the air are more likely to mold thus botching your batch. I write the date of production on the jar with a grease pen or a sharpie because I will not remember a few weeks down the line when I made the damn thing. I suppose it would make more sense to write the "ready by date". Ah well.


  • 1-2 lbs of white cà pháo | firecracker eggplant (aka S. macrocarpon, gboma or African eggplant), cut in half 
  • (optional) dried shrimp or fish sauce
  • (optional) fresh bird's eye chile peppers
  • (optional) garlic & chile paste


  • 1 qt of water
  • 1 tbs of celtic or himalayan sea salt (can use more for a saltier pickle, but no more than 2 tbs or you will bypass ferment to preserve)
Dissolve salt in the water (can use lukewarm water but allow to cool before pouring over veggies.)

Pack the eggplants and any other ingredients into the jar. Pour the brine over to cover and weight it down. Let it sit for 28 days (though you can eat it along the way). Every few days you open the airlock to release gas; this helps it from spilling over especially if it's filled to the brim.

Ăn Ngon Lành|Eat Delectably!

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