Isaan Grilled Eggplant Salad (Yam Makeua Isaan)

1 pound Asian eggplants (3 long or 5 short)
3 shallots, unpeeled
5 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 to 2 cayenne chiles, or 2 Anaheim chiles, or 2 small banana or Hungarian wax chiles
2 small or 1 large scallion, trimmed and minced
1/2 cup coriander leaves, coarsely chopped, plus extra whole leaves for garnish
1/4 cup mint leaves, finely chopped, plus extra for garnish
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
2 tablespoons Dry-Roasted Sesame Seeds (page 308) Salt to taste
1 medium European cucumber, sliced (optional)

Heat a grill or broiler. Prick the eggplants all over with a fork. Grill or broil about 5 inches from the heat, with the oven door closed, until well softened and browned, 10 to 15 minutes. If grilling, turn the eggplants to expose all sides to the heat. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, grill on a fine-mesh rack or broil the shallots, garlic, and chiles, turning often if grilling, until well softened; don’t worry if there are some black spots. Remove from the heat and, when cool enough to handle, peel the garlic and shallots and coarsely chop together. Remove the chile stems and coarsely chop the chiles. Place the garlic, shallots, and chiles in a large mortar or in a blender or food processor and mash or process to a coarse paste.

Cut open the eggplants; scrape the flesh off the skin and discard the skin. Coarsely chop the flesh, then place it in a large bowl or in a mortar and mash with a spoon or pestle to a lumpy mass. Add the grilled flavorings and mash together. Alternatively, add the eggplant to the blender or processor and pulse briefly with the grilled flavorings; you don’t want a completely smooth puree.

Turn the mixture out into a bowl (if necessary). Stir in the scallions and chopped coriander and mint, then stir in the lime juice and fish sauce. Add the sesame seeds, reserving a few for garnish if you wish. Taste and add a little salt if needed.

Serve the salad in a shallow bowl, garnished with a sprinkling of herbs and, if desired, sesame seeds. If you like, place slices of cucumber around the edge that guests can use to dip through the eggplant.

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