Sauté eggplants in a savory and spicy Indonesian shrimp paste (terasi) sauce. Use this versatile and umami-rich sauce with fried tofu or your favorite greens.
Terasi/belacan/shrimp paste is an important ingredient in Indonesian culinary. We use it to prepare Indonesian most popular chili sauce, sambal terasi, and it is also present in many Indonesian dishes. Today’s recipe for this delicious terong saus terasi (eggplant with spicy shrimp paste sauce) also uses terasi to give it a rich umami flavor.
What is terasi/belacan/shrimp paste?
Terasi is made from tiny shrimps fermented with salt. It is shaped into a block with dark chocolate color. It has a very pungent smell, akin to a highlyl condensed and intense smell of fish sauce.
It can be hard to find Indonesian terasi sold in the United States. I use Malaysian belacan most of the time and it tastes almost exactly like Indonesian terasi. If your market doesn’t have terasi nor belacan, you can also try Thai shrimp paste.
I hope you will be able to find one of these three and use it to prepare this lovely dish.
How to use/toast terasi
Terasi/belacan must be toasted before using it. Cut the amount called for in a recipe, and toast it until the color is pale and becomes crumbly.
The easiest method will be putting the shrimp paste in a microwave-proof bowl, cover the bowl with a microwave-proof plate, and cook for 30 seconds. This is usually enough to toast the terasi properly.
If you don’t own a microwave, you can also pan-fry the terasi in a frying pan without any oil until pale and crumbly. Using an oven toaster works too, or if you have a gas stove, use a pair of tongs to grab the terasi and stick it in the open flame.
Ingredients for terong saus terasi
This recipe needs eggplants, tomatoes, red chilies, shallot, garlic, terasi/belacan/shrimp paste, kaffir lime leaves, scallions, salt, and sugar.
Indonesian eggplants are similar to Chinese eggplants, which are slimmer and lankier than their American cousins. But you don’t have to use Chinese eggplants for this dish. I was using American globe eggplants when I prepared this recipe.
I use dried Thai red chilies since that’s the most convenient and reliable chilies I stock at home. I simply soak the dried chilies in hot water until soft before using it.
You can use fresh red chilies too if you do have them in your kitchen.
The number of chilies is not exact and you can adjust the amount to suit your preferred spiciness level of the final dish.
Preparing eggplant for frying
A successful stir-fried eggplant dish depends more on how you prep the eggplants, and less on the variety of eggplants you decide to use for that dish.
Eggplants, be it Chinese eggplants or American globe eggplants, have so much excess air distributed within their spongy cell networks. This trapped air is the reason why frying eggplants, untreated, or as-is, tends to make eggplants stick and burn when you stir-fry them. So how do we avoid this?
The most fail-proof and easiest method that I have found over the years is by cutting eggplants into wedges, and soak them in a big bowl of salted water. Usually for two medium-size eggplants, soaking them in a mixture of 2 quarts water and 1⁄3 cup salt for 30 minutes should break down the cell structure and the eggplants will fry beautifully.
Remember to drain the eggplants and pat dry them well with paper towels so they won’t splatter when fried in hot oil.
Cooking the eggplant dish
First, use a food processor or a blender with a spice attachment to grind together red chilies, shallot, garlic, and toasted shrimp paste into a smooth paste.
Next, heat a wok over medium-high heat until hot, then add 4 tablespoons of oil and swirl to coat the wok. Add eggplant wedges into the wok sear until golden brown. Set aside.
Lower the heat to a medium, there should be some oil left in the wok, but if there isn’t, add a little more oil so it comes to about 2 tablespoons. Add the spice paste and kaffir lime leaves and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
Add tomato, salt, sugar, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until tomato wilts.
Return fried eggplants into the wok and turn up the heat to medium-high. Once it boils, reduce the heat to a medium and cook until eggplant is soft and tender, and the sauce has reduced.
Turn off the heat. Transfer the dish to a serving plate and garnish with thinly sliced scallions.
Other recipes using terasi
If you love terasi and would like to use it more to prepare other dishes, you can try some of these recipes:
Terong Saus Terasi - Eggplant with Spicy Shrimp Paste
- 2 medium-sized eggplants (about 750 gram or 1 1/2 lb. total) (Note 1)
- 4 tablespoon oil
- 5 kaffir lime leaves, remove the ribs
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- 1/2 tablespoon salt
- 2 tablespoon sugar
- 1 cup water
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced (for garnish, optional)
- Spice paste (grind the following together)
- 15 dried red chilies (Indonesian: cabe merah kering), seeded and soaked in hot water to soften
- 75 gram shallot (Indonesian: bawang merah)
- 5 cloves garlic (Indonesian: bawang putih)
- 1 tablespoon shrimp paste (Indonesian: terasi; Malaysian/Singaporean: belacan), toasted
- Prepare the eggplants: Cut eggplant into wedges, and soak in a mixing bowl filled with 2 quarts (8 cups) of water and 1/3 cup of salt for 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry with paper towels.
- Fry the eggplants: Heat a wok over medium-high heat until hot, then add 4 tablespoons of oil and swirl to coat the wok. Add eggplant wedges into the wok sear until golden brown. Set aside.
- Cook the eggplant dish: Lower the heat to a medium, there should be some oil left in the wok, but if there isn’t, add a little more oil so it comes to about 2 tablespoons. Add the spice paste and kaffir lime leaves and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
- Add tomato, salt, sugar, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until tomato wilts.
- Return fried eggplants into the wok and turn up the heat to medium-high. Once it boils, reduce the heat to a medium and cook until eggplant is soft and tender, and the sauce has reduced.
- Garnish and serve: Turn off the heat. Transfer the dish to a serving plate and garnish with thinly sliced scallions.
- (1) Use either Chinese eggplants, or American globe eggplants.