My second recipe of the week also comes from Southeast Asia, this time from Malaysia. Sambal Terung is a roasted eggplant dish, covered in sambal (a spicy chili-based condiment). Like Tuesday’s recipe, this is a dish that comes together easily and would allow me to focus on the main dish of the night (in this case, I was going to make Beef Rendang). I personally like this dish because it carries a deep, exotic flavor with minimal hands-on time; you’ll mostly spend your time soaking and roasting the eggplants.
Sambal has its origins on Java island in Indonesia, traditionally made with 75-90% chiles and a few other ingredients (shrimp paste, salt) added for depth of flavor. The sauce spread to other countries, most notably Malaysia and the rest of Southeast Asia (I have a theory that Sriracha is a product of sambal influence, but it’s hard to say for sure); it also made its way into Europe due to the Dutch colonization of Indonesia in the 17th century and beyond.
Eggplant was first grown in the Indian subcontinent, and spread both East and West from there. It reached China around 500AD, and was wildly popular in the Mediterranean starting in the Middle Ages and continuing today. It wasn’t accepted in Europe until later, around the 17th century, as it was originally considered by Europeans to be poisonous. Because of its widespread use in early history, the words for eggplant itself are all over the place, with no one single root spreading to each language (unlike something like “tomato”, whose origin is easier to trace). This is why you’ll see a myriad of names for eggplant; even English has several words for the vegetable (aubergine being the British variant, borrowed from Arabic, and the Caribbean often refers to eggplant as melongene, also of Arabic influence).