The new ve­gan

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Meera Sodha’s co­conut rice with aubergines and pick­led cu­cum­ber

One of the rea­sons I live in Lon­don, de­spite know­ing that the grass is much greener beyond the M25, is that I can travel any­where in the world through the city’s food. Within a 10-minute walk of home, I can be eat­ing bouncy, hand-pulled noo­dles from the north­ern Chi­nese prov­ince of Xin­jiang, smoky aubergines cooked over coals by Ana­to­lian Turks, or Nige­rian fried yam.

In many cases, I’ve not been to the coun­try in ques­tion, but even so, a dish can evoke a sense of place and trans­port you there, no mat­ter how many buses are whizzing past out­side. Good food from an un­known place does a far bet­ter job than any tourist board ad ever could: it draws me in and makes me want to go.

This is what hap­pened a few weeks ago when I had my first en­counter with Malaysian food, an ex­tra­or­di­nary fu­sion of Chi­nese, Malay and In­dian food that weaves in­gre­di­ents that are fa­mil­iar to me into in­ter­est­ing new flavours. I had nasi lemak, where the rice, which I’d usu­ally eat spiced or steamed, is cooked in co­conut milk, mak­ing it plump and re­gal. Chillies and sour tamarind were spun into fiery hot and sour sam­bals to mix in, as lit­tle or as much as you liked. The curry along­side con­tained the holy trin­ity of taste – spice, sweet and salt – and came with peanuts and cu­cum­ber for crunch and cool.

To­day’s recipe is the re­sult of my wish to recre­ate those flavours at home. While

I can’t claim it has any authenticity, I hope it will trans­port you as it did me.

Co­conut rice with aubergines and pick­led cu­cum­ber

Ideally, you’d have two wide, lid­ded pans – one for the rice and one for the aubergines. Serves four.

For the pickle ½ cu­cum­ber

2 tbsp lemon juice

¾ tsp caster sugar

½ bird’s eye chilli, very finely chopped For the rice 350g jas­mine rice 3300ml co­conut milk (the rest of the tin goes into the aubergines) For the aubergines 3 tbsp rape­seed oil

1 red onion, peeled, halved and cut into thin half moons

3 gar­lic cloves, peeled and crushed 1 ½ bird’s eye chillies, very finely chopped

1kg aubergines, cut into quar­ters and then into 1cm-thick slices 100ml co­conut milk

1 tbsp tamarind paste

1 tbsp light soy sauce

Salt

½ tsp sugar

1 hand­ful salted peanuts, crushed First make the pickle. Cut the cu­cum­ber in half length­ways, scoop out and dis­card the seeds (use a tea­spoon), then chop the flesh into a fine dice. Put the cu­cum­ber in a bowl with the lemon juice, a quar­tertea­spoon of salt, the caster sugar and chilli, and mix to com­bine.

Put the rice in a sieve and wash un­der the cold tap un­til the wa­ter runs clear. Put in a pan with 300ml co­conut milk, 220ml wa­ter and a quar­ter-tea­spoon of salt, bring up to a boil, then cover the pan and turn down the heat to a whis­per. Leave to cook for 15 min­utes, then turn off the heat and leave, lid on, to steam.

In a fry­ing pan for which you have a lid, heat the oil on a high flame, then fry the onion, stir­ring, for about eight min­utes un­til soft and golden. Add the gar­lic and chillies, cook for a cou­ple of min­utes more, then stir in the aubergines. Add three ta­ble­spoons of wa­ter, clap on the lid and leave to cook, stir­ring ev­ery now and then; if it starts look­ing too dry, add a ta­ble­spoon of wa­ter.

After about 15 min­utes, when the aubergines are start­ing to brown and have re­duced in vol­ume, add the 100ml co­conut milk, tamarind, soy sauce, a quar­ter-tea­spoon of salt and the sugar. Cook un­til the liq­uid evap­o­rates, then take off the heat.

To serve, pile the aubergines on top of the rice, scat­ter a lit­tle drained cu­cum­ber pickle on top and fin­ish with a sprin­kling of peanuts.

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