There Is A Season: An eggplant salad to savor on the go

  • This vegan salad pairs eggplant with green pepper and a spicy Thai dressing. MOLLY PARR

For the Gazette
Published: 8/15/2020 12:14:13 PM

Now that “going out” most likely means heading to a secluded outdoor destination, perhaps for a hike or a swim in a wooded area with just some birds as company, what to pack for a picnic lunch is front and center in my kitchen. While my 7-year-old is content with plain noodles and some trail mix, I strongly believe that being outside doesn’t mean one should sacrifice flavor and enjoyment. 

My latest packable dish is this vegan Thai eggplant salad. It was inspired by a not-so-inspiring bowl of sesame noodles I made last month for my parents who made it clear that my decision to hold back on spice was a bad one. The solution was found in a jar of the sweet chili sauce sambaloelek, a bright red Indonesian condiment made of hot peppers and vinegar, found at most grocery stores and online. 

I pair the eggplant with green pepper, both of which are conveniently in season at the same time. The first time I made this I used Asian eggplant and cooked everything in our air fryer for 20 minutes. Of course, not everyone owns an air fryer, so the next time I made it — using some very beautiful fairy tale eggplant, streaked lavender and white — I used the toaster oven. If you don’t have a toaster oven, a regular oven also works — I was just trying to keep the kitchen cool in this heat. 

I served the salad over udon noodles, but of course, feel free to use what’s best for you. I prep the dressing while the vegetables roast and the water boils. It’s good the next day with no flavor lost and the dressing doesn’t disappear into the noodles, ensuring each bite is flavorful and not the least bit dry. 

I salted the eggplants for about a half-hour before cooking the eggplant and it was worth it. While it is officially hot pepper season, I didn’t have any fresh ones in my kitchen and used one dried chile pepper and kept it whole. For some, this may not be enough of a kick, so I encourage you to add more and chop it up if you’re so inclined

Vegan Thai eggplant salad 


1 pound of eggplant, sliced lengthwise and sprinkled with a pinch of kosher salt for a half hour. 

Half a green pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks

½ pound udon noodles, prepared according to the package


1 (or more) chile peppers, chopped if you like the heat, or left whole, depending on your tolerance for spice

1 Tablespoon minced garlic

One quarter cup brown sugar

Juice of one lime

3 Tablespoons tamari

½ Tablespoon apple cider vinegar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 Tablespoon sambaloelek


Once your eggplant has been salted for a half-hour, slice it in half, lengthwise, and then into thirds or fourths, depending on its size. You’re aiming for 1-inch chunks to match the size of the green pepper.

In a large bowl, toss the eggplant and green pepper chunks with a half tablespoon olive oil, and a pinch of kosher salt. 

If you’re using an air fryer, cook everything at 375F for 20 minutes, with a shake at 10 minutes. If using an oven or toaster oven, roast everything at 400F for 22 to 27 minutes. You’ll know the eggplant is done when it is very soft to the touch and doesn’t bounce back when poked. 

To make the dressing, combine the chile, garlic, sugar, lime juice, tamari, apple cider vinegar, salt and chili paste in a small bowl and stir until the sugar has dissolved. 

Once the eggplant and green pepper are fully cooked, put them directly into the bowl of dressing and toss to combine. 

Serve on a bed of cooked udon noodles. The salad can be refrigerated overnight and travels well in a portable container. Don’t forget your ice pack and fork!

Molly Parr lives in Florence with her husband and two young daughters. She's been writing her food blog, Cheap Beets, since 2010. She was furloughed from Smith for the summer and is using the time to work on her first cookbook. Send questions or comments to


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