At many restaurants in Thailand, part of the menu will be devoted to nam prik chilli sauces. These can be wildly different, ranging from mild to fiery, subtle to pungent, and made with a huge variety of ingredients including meats, seafood (fresh and dried) or vegetables. What they all have in common is that they are served as a dipping sauce or paste accompaniment to vegetables, meat or seafood.
Nam prik num is made with eggplant that's grilled and pounded to a paste. I like to serve it with vegetables, pork cracklings and grilled pork sausages, preferably sui oua - a spicy, fresh pork Thai sausage.
If you can’t find large Thai chillies called for in the recipe, use a mild variety (such as banana chillies) and bump up the heat by adding green bird’s-eye chillies.
For the best flavour, the eggplant and other vegetables are cooked over charcoal, but it's almost as delicious when they are charred under the oven grill.
Heat the oven grill to high. Place the eggplants, chillies, garlic cloves and shallots on a shallow tray and slide it into the oven so the vegetables are about 2cm (⅞in) from the heating element. Grill the vegetables until the eggplants and chillies are soft and deeply and evenly charred, while the garlic cloves and shallots should be burned in spots. Turn the vegetables over so they cook evenly, and take them out as they are done (the eggplants and chillies will take longer).
When the eggplants and chillies are cool enough to handle, strip off the skins (it’s OK if some of the skin doesn’t come off). Discard the chilli stems and seeds
Roughly chop the eggplants, chillies, garlic and shallots, then place them into a mortar and pound to a paste. (Or use a food processor, but don’t overprocess – it should be a rough paste.)
Mix in the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and salt. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasonings, if necessary.
Spoon the nam prik num into a serving bowl. Serve warm or at room temperature with the sausages, pork crackling and vegetables of choice.