Serve these hot and crunchy balls as an appetizer or over rice noodles with a drizzle of sweet chili sauce for a quick vegetarian meal.
By Pallavi Gupta
I recently went to a restaurant with some of my friends and there was a dish with prawns that was ordered on our table which looked beautiful (NO, I am not a stickler about hanging out with only vegetarians). I cant remember the name of the dish but it was spicy and it looked like today’s recipe. I had my friend sit there and describe the flavors as she was eating it and list the ingredients based on that….yes yes, perks of being friends with a food blogger!
She listed a lot of Indo-Asian flavors (Indo-Asian Cuisine = a hybrid of Indian and Chinese food invented by Indians) which I eventually changed to something completely different. You see there is this stir fry that I make for a few years now with eggplants and tofu with a lot of scallions and that has great flavors from chili, fennel, soy sauce and sugar – more American Chinese. SO, I incorporated the flavors from my stir fry and came up with this vegan appetizer.
I used minced tofu and eggplant to make the base and seasoned it with fennel, chili, black bean paste along with onion and garlic. I added some cornstarch to bind it together and rolled the balls in rice vermicelli before frying them. Honestly, I was very nervous before frying them – I always am, right before frying anything that has a possibility of shattering in the wok on me. I was worried because both tofu and eggplant has moisture and as a binding agent I was using a little bit of cornstarch. I didn’t want to use bread crumbs because then it would have landed up tasting like potato cutlets. SO I said a little prayer and fried these babies and luckily they turned out great! The vermicelli looked so pretty and added this crunch to the exterior of these balls. I served them with some sweet chili sauce.
If you land up with left overs, you can heat them in the oven for 10 minutes and serve them over plain rice noodle with some drizzle of sweet chili or a spicy peanut sauce. It should make for a flavorful and a quick meal!
- 1 cup firm tofu, pat dried with paper towel to remove any extra water
- ½ of a medium size eggplant, cut into bite size pieces
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp corn starch
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 tsp fennel seeds
- 2 dried red chilies
- 1 tbsp black bean sauce
- rice vermicelli to coat the balls (optional)
- ¼ cup hot water
- vegetable oil for frying
- Preheat the oven at 350 F. Spray a baking tray with some oil.
- Place bite size eggplant on the tray and sprinkle with some salt. Using your fingertip mix the eggplant to distribute the salt evenly. Cover the tray with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes or till the eggplant turns soft. Keep aside, let cool.
- Soak the red chilies and fennel seeds in hot water for about 30 minutes. keep aside.
- In a blender pulse tofu and cooled eggplant to form a smooth-ish paste. Transfer in a big mixing bowl.
- In a mortar and pestle add the soaked red chili and fennel seeds. Add garlic and a few pinches of salt. Pound and crush with the pestle to make a paste. Keep going at it till most of the chili skin has turned into a paste. You can do this step in a blender as well.
- In a saucepan heat up a few teaspoons of oil and saute the onion till it starts turning pink.
- Add the chili paste and continue to cook for a couple of minutes or till it gets all fragrant.
- Add the onion mixture to the tofu and eggplant paste.
- Add the black bean sauce & cornstarch. Mix till everything is well incorporated.
- Taste to adjust seasoning.
- Make 2 inch balls out of the mixture and roll them in rice vermicelli. Keep aside in a plate.
- Heat vegetable oil in a wok and deep fry the balls till they turn golden brown from all sides.
- Remove from the oil using a slotted spoon and rest on paper towel to get rid of any excess oil.
- Serve right away with a sweet chili dipping sauce of your choice.