The sweetness of the burnt coconut slivers, slightly salty bitter melon slices, crisp cucumber, citrusy nectarines, fresh cherry tomatoes blended well with the flavors of the garlicky-onion creaminess of the coconut milk browned to perfection on the soft, mushy broiled eggplant. Every bite was unbelievable. I felt like a goddess being lavished with a wonderful vegetable concoction!
When I first heard of the “burnt coconut” method of cooking that’s a very traditional way of preparing coconut in vegetables I was intimidated by it. Authors Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan tell the complete story in their updated, revised cookbook “Memories of Philippine Kitchens”. I was looking for original recipes to feature alongside the June article I had written for “Food” Magazine, Manila’s largest circulating culinary print publication, and Amy first sent me their recipe for “Kulawong Talong”.
Later on the “Food” editors chose another recipe to go with my magazine feature article, a Blueberry – Purple Yam tart, but I was smitten by the flavors this eggplant recipe promised. So when my younger son who loves vegetables came home to visit last week, I lost no time in making this.
First, I broiled the Chinese eggplants, a staple in my vegetable bin. A trip to the Asian market is not complete if I don’t grab a couple of these long, pretty purple eggplants. Once they were broiled and cooled, I peeled them and started “burning” the coconut cream. It was actually easier than it looked. Once I got going, pressing, kneading, sieving the coconut, everything just fell in place.
I quickly prepared the suggested Bitter Melon – Nectarine salad (also found in the cookbook “Memories…) and the colorful, flavorful mix of greens and reds offered the perfect contrast of tastes when I put them on top of the broiled eggplant with the sweet and savory “burnt” coconut milk and flakes.
Once you take your first bite you will wonder why on earth you never had this before. Only in the Philippines can you taste such bountiful flavors and food textures all in one bite . There is simply nothing like Filipino food as magnificent as this, nothing else in the world rivals it.
Have you ever tasted sweet coconut milk and coconut flakes burnt to a perfection? You will love the superb flavors in this Kulawong Talong, a traditional and classic way to prepare coconut. Start with a base of broiled eggplants. Pour the creamy coconut milk that has a toasty aroma to it, infused with garlic and shallots. Finally, top it with the fresh salad of bitter melons, nectarines, cucumbers, tomatoes. Slice and serve alongside grilled dishes or enjoy it as a meal in itself. It's a terrific tried and true Filipino way of cooking vegetables. This recipe was from the "Memories of Philippine Kitchens" Cookbook by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan. Serves 4 as a side dish.
- frozen grated coconut - Two 16-ounce packages (available in Asian markets)
- rice vinegar - 1 cup
- canned coconut milk - 2 cups
- garlic - 5 cloves, peeled
- fresh ginger - One 1-inch piece, peeled and sliced
- Chinese eggplants - 8 pieces
- salt - a pinch, to taste
- green bitter melon or - 1/2 of the piece, thinly sliced, seeded (found in Asian markets)
- cucumber - 1 snall, peeled, seeded and sliced
- cherry or grape tomatoes - 5 to 6, cut in half
- nectarines - 2 firm, cut into thick slices
- Preheat the oven to 400 F degrees. Mix the defrosted coconut with the rice vinegar. Knead by hand to extract as much cream from the coconut as possible. Wrap this coconut-vinegar mixture in cheesecloth and squeeze the coconut milk into a bowl, till all the milk has been extracted. You should have approximately 2 1/2 cups of liquid. Set the extracted coconut milk aside.
- Spread the squeezed, grated coconut on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or till dark brown. I had to check on it and by the 1oth minute it was very dark brown in my hot oven. Turn the tray around for even browning. Slightly char the coconut, but be careful not to burn it too much. Keep turning the tray around.
- Separately, in a saucepan, combine the extracted coconut milk, half of the pan of burnt coconut, the canned coconut milk, garlic, ginger, shallots. Bring to a quick boil, then lower the heat to a slow simmer for 10 minutes. Stir well so the bottom does not burn.
- Meanwhile, place the eggplants on a stovetop grill or under a broiler. Cook until the skin is charred and the interior is soft, approximately 25 minutes. When done, remove from broiler and cool on the counter till it is not too hot to touch. When cool enough to handle, peel the eggplants using a fork or serrated knife. When peeled, spread the eggplant and flatten the flesh a little. Season with salt.
- Arrange the eggplants on a dish and pour the warm burnt coconut cream over them.
- Top with Chef Romy Dorotan's Bitter Melon and Nectarine Salad : Spread the sliced bitter melon or "ampalaya" over the cheesecloth or heavy paper towels. Rub with sea salt and squeeze the juices out. Sprinkle with lemon juice and set aside. In a large bowl, mix together the cucumber, tomatoes, nectarines. Stir in the bitter melon or "ampalaya". Sprinkle with more lemon juice and sea salt to taste before serving on top of the eggplant with burnt coconut cream.
- Serve hot or cold, both ways is a terrific side to any grilled dish or is good as a meal in itself.