Description

Eggplant prepared in the cream produced by squeezing grated fresh, ripe coconut soaked in water to make “lechen niyok”, or coconut cream, seasoned with lemon juice and hot peppers.

History

Origin

The use of “lechen niyok” is an indigenous cooking method in Southeast Asia and tropical Pacific islands as well other countries where coconut is available.  The addition of lemon juice creates a taste combination common in the preparation of many vegetables and protein dishes.  This flavor combination is the basis for “lechen biringhenas” (creamed eggplant).  “Leche” means milk, in this case “coconut milk.”  The addition of the “n” to make “lechen” changes the noun to an adjective which describes what is added to the “biringhenas”, or eggplant.

Lemon was grown in the Mariana Islands prior to the arrival of the Spanish.  The eggplant used to make this dish is the long, banana-shaped Japanese eggplant now cultivated in Guam and referred to as “local.” The red peppers (donne‘) used in this recipe was also introduced during the island’s Spanish era.

Evolution

The  local eggplant has both green and purple varieties.  The vegetable was easily adapted to the native cooking style of roasting over an open fire.  At some point after its introduction, cooks found that eggplant was very tasty with the addition of the traditional lechen niyok and lemon sauce.  Today, other kinds of eggplants are also used, often roasted in the oven and processed in the blender.  But the added flavor of roasting over an open fire makes the best lechen biringhenas.

Preparation

The local eggplant shape makes it ideal for roasting over an open fire.  This process burns the skin and cooks the inner part of the eggplant to a soft texture.  The burned skin can easily be removed after the eggplant is cooled, by pulling it away from the inner flesh with the fingers.  The top of the plant is usually left on for easy handling. The most common way to arrange the eggplant in a bowl is by mashing the soft inside while holding onto the stem, a natural handle.  The mashed eggplant is then layered in the bowl with the tops facing up around the edge of the bowl.  A mixture of lechen niyok is poured over each layer, mashing the sauce into the soft eggplant.

Placement on table

Lechen biringhenas is placed with other vegetable dishes towards the end of the main table, after starches (called “åggon”).  The åggon is followed by the totche dishes, which refer to the protein and other dishes that accompany the starches.  Vegetable dishes follow after the meat dishes.

By Judy Flores, PhD

Recipe

Lechen Biringhenas: Barbecued Eggplant with Coconut Cream

12 eggplants
1 can coconut milk
Water
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Hot pepper, to taste

Twelve ounces of prepared lechen niyok mixed with about ¼ cup of fresh lemon juice, salt and hot pepper to taste, is enough to prepare about 12 local eggplants.  Place the eggplants on the barbecue grill to roast slowly, turning often.  After about 20 minutes the skin should be burned and the eggplant soft to the touch.  Strip the burned skin off the eggplant as described above.  Mash each eggplant by pressing repeatedly with the bottom of a heavy cup, or by pounding lightly with a tenderizing hammer.  Layer as described above.

* Recipe by Judy Flores, PhD