Yeah, OK, I am a sucker for Asian condiments. I've tried gazillions and yet there are gazillions more to try. So when I saw these eggplants in the refrigerator case at the market, they just had to come back to the restaurant with me. I guess I chose them because of all the pickles I have eaten, none have ever been eggplant. It just never occurred to me that eggplants were pickled. And now I wonder why not, given that I pickle all manner of things including peppers, onions, green tomatoes, green beans, and okra.
But looking further into it, I see that pickled eggplants are common all over Asia. So now I feel kind of stupid, but then that was the point of this whole "alien ingredient" series: to learn, to play, to have fun. And these pickles are fun, too!
The eggplants are of a cultivar that I do not recognize, looking like tiny pickled green tomatoes. I am used to the Thai zebra-striped green eggplants, but these appear to have no stripes. In any case, the smallest are pickled whole while the largest appear to be quartered, with many simpled halved. They are very crunchy, perhaps just a tad too crunchy (quoth Alex, "I wish these were a little softer") and the brine is very aggressive in a salty industrial vinegar kind of way. I wish they had used a higher quality vinegar and less salt. The red chile is fairly mild as red chile goes. Of course, I am a chile head of the first order, so don't trust my judgement!
I think Alex summed it up fairly well: "Sort of like eggplant kimchee."
I am going to try these in two cooked applications. I think that they would be pretty damned tasty in a curry and tossed into Thai fried rice.
Vote: these are fun and addictive to munch on. We'd like to try putting up our own this summer because we know we can do a better job.