I went to the Taste of Perth Food Festival earlier in the year. It’s a bit of a different concept to your usual food festival in that the top restaurants of the city present 4 dishes in tapas size-servings so you can taste what the restaurant is all about. It was so amazing. Lance and I shared each dish so we could fit in the maximum dishes and in so doing added a bunch of new restaurants to our ‘to-visit’ list. One of the (many) stand-out dishes was Nobu’s pork belly with caramel miso sauce. Everything about the dish was perfectly constructed. The textures, the salt-to-sweet-to-umami flavours of the sauce. Heaven.
The use of caramel sauce in a savoury dish brought back the memory of a dish I made often a few years back of Caramel Braised Pork. Another sweet-savoury dish using caramel, pineapple, sweet potato and pork. So then my head started going through what I had at home and what flavours would go well with caramel. I had bought a bag of baby eggplants from the Nanna Shop. I love the creamy texture that eggplants get when you cook them, and thought that would make the perfect vegetarian base for a caramel dish. I used pomegranate for a tart contrast and water chestnuts for a textural counterpoint. And instead of using sugar to make the caramel, I used redgum honey. I’d never made caramel with honey before, but it works just as well as sugar. It adds a subtle floral flavor to the caramel that works well in this dish. Number one rule for making caramel is to watch it carefully, because it turns from caramel to burnt mess very, very quickly. But once the caramel is done, the dish can be left to cook, just stirring here and there, making it a good week night dish to set going while you prep for the next day.
The toasted nuts on top really do finish the dish, so do add them.
Pomegranate Caramel Braised Eggplant and Cabbage with Udon
½ cup honey
1 tbsp lime juice
3 tsp butter
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp fish sauce
¼ cup Chinese cooking wine
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
Juice from one orange
1 tsp finely chopped red chilli
1 pomegranate, seeded
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 brown onion, diced
6 baby eggplants, cut into rounds
1 tin sliced water chestnuts
¼ large green cabbage, shredded
Handful roasted salted peanuts, roughly chopped
Start by preparing your sauce. Mix together the onion, garlic, soy sauce, fish sauce, Chinese cooking wine, rice wine vinegar, orange juice, chilli and pomegranate in a bowl and set aside.
Prep all of your veges.
In a large, deep frypan add the honey and lime juice and heat over a medium-high flame. Stir to combine as it warms, then as it starts bubbling, stop stirring. Swirl occasionally by the handle to keep it moving as it starts browning and turning to caramel – about 3 minutes. Watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn. Remove from the heat, and stir in the butter. Watch it as it will spatter. Mix until smooth.
Add the sauce, add back to the heat and stir well to combine as it comes back to a boil. Add the eggplant, cabbage and water chestnuts, and stir well to coat in the sauce. Leave to braise, stirring now and then until the sauce reduces and thickens, and the vegetables become tender. Around 20 minutes.
Prepare udon as per the packet instructions, and drain well. Place in a bowl and scoop the caramel braised vegetables on top. Sprinkle generously with toasted peanuts and pickled onion, if desired.