The author dissects the charm of this dish as "the sweet sharpness of the dressing and the muskiness of mango that makes it so pleasing". I couldn't agree with him more; but I think the true secret here is the contrast between lime zest, which has a slightly coconut-like effect, harmonizing with the almost floral aspect of mango in a way very similar to that of jasmine and lime; and to top it off - basil and cilantro goes amazingly well with both the lime and the mango!
It is also very appealing texture-wise, with the soggy fried eggplants, crunchy onions, slippery noodles and mango, and bits of herbs and spices and heat from the chile. Delicious is not good enough to describe it...
My adaptations or variations on the original recipe are in the method of cooking the eggplant (to reduce the amount of grease involved without compromising taste) as well as substituting sugar and rice vinegar with agave syrup and apple cider vinegar (my personal preferences). I also feel that the recipes always go overboard with some of the ingredients (herbs, vinegars and spices) so mine is toned down quite a bit, including omitting the garlic (which I think is overboard with all that red onion in there) - and I like it best this way - and hope you do too! It's full of flavour and like all the recipes I'm sharing today (see below) to celebrate the end of summer - it's a perfect picnic food and actually can be a meal all on its own! Especially if you add a bit of pan-roasted tofu - see comment below.
To prepare the eggplant:
2 eggplants, diced to about 3/4"
1 Tbs coarse sea salt
Sprinkle with salt and set aside to drain for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hrs. Pat dry with a towel, or squeeze additional excess moisture over the sink. Fry the drained eggplant pieces in about 3 Tbs or more (no more than 1/4cup) vegetable oil. You can do this in a large saucepan or a wok. Sautee and stir until slightly browned and fully cooked (but the pieces still hold their shape). Set aside to cool off.
For the soba noodles:
Cook 2 bundles of soba noodles (preferably wheat free and yam flour free - I even found a brand that is organic and 100% buckwheat flour!) according to the manufacturer's directions, until they are "al dente". Rinse off with plenty of cool water and leave to drain over a sieve. Once completely drained - coat the noodles with:
2-3 Tbs olive oil
2-3 Tbs soy sauce or tamari
Add the cooled off eggplant, and:
1 ripe yet firm mango (I prefer Ataulfo mango), diced
1 generous handful of cilantro leaves, chopped
1 generous handful of torn basil leaves
1 red shallot, thinly sliced (or 1/2 red onion).
For the dressing:
1 Tbs dark roasted sesame oil
3 Tbs apple cider vinegar
Zest and juice from 1 ripe lime (pick the one that is as more yellow rather than the dark green ones)
1 tsp agave syrup
1 tsp chile flakes (or 1 fresh red chile)
Combine all the ingredients together and leave in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving. If serving the next day, add an extra garnish of fresh basil and cilantro for an extra burst of flavour!
In a cast-iron pan, roast 1 package of extra firm organic tofu that is cut into 3/4 dice. This is simply done by warming the tofu inside soy sauce or tamari until the tofu is brown and crispy on the outside. Add more sauce during the process to prevent scorching the tofu and the pan prematurely...