I have probably eaten over 300 tortang talongs in my entire lifetime and I never cooked it myself until yesterday. It is certainly Pinoy comfort food and the combination of ground meat, egg and eggplant make it a pretty nutritious albeit somewhat fatty dish. Growing up, this was a staple for lunch or an occasional dinner even at our home. And I always ate it with lots of tomato ketchup and rice. When I asked our current cook how she prepares it, she said she just sautÃ©s some onion and garlic in oil, adds ground beef and pork , adds some soy sauce and seasons with cracked black pepper. This is what she stuffs in to the roasted eggplants after the addition of eggs. I suppose many carinderias or canteens make a similar version (though many folks do not use soy sauce but rather tomatoes and other veggies for flavoring) and that is pretty much the taste I grew up withâ€¦smoky eggplants, salty meat and egg and fried to caramelized perfectionâ€¦
This is not a dish we invented, however. I think we can probably attribute it to a similar dish prepared by the Spaniards called berenjenas rellenas or stuffed eggplants. Using smaller eggplants from the island of Majorca and other southern areas of Spain, the eggplants are fried or roasted and the meat scooped out and added to sautÃ©ed minced meat with added spices. Everything is returned to the eggplant casing and baked with breadcrumbs until done. I decided to make some tortang talong so I could put a post on it, but as we started to prep for cooking, I decided to experiment a little with terrific resultsâ€¦
To make, first select some nice medium to large skinny to medium girth eggplants and roast them over a charcoal fire. Peel the charred skin and set the eggplants aside, leaving the stem ends intact. Slit the eggplant lengthwise and open it up a bit. Next, make the filling for the eggplants. We started by making the cookâ€™s version with sautÃ©ed minced onions and garlic with ground beef and pork and some Kikkoman soy sauce and cracked black pepper. Once cooked, set it aside to cool for a few minutes. Incorporate several eggs into the meat mixture, I use one egg for each medium sized eggplant to be made, then put it on top of the roasted and split open eggplant.
Heat up a fish pan (perfect shape for this dish) or a large non-stick skillet and fry the eggplant and meat in some vegetable oil. After a couple of minutes, flip it over and cook the meat side until nicely caramelized. Some other folks, then add meat mixture to the back side to maximize the meat and flavor in this dish. I tend to just use one side of the eggplant. I thought the base meat mixture of the cook looked good but was a bit one dimensionalâ€¦on the salty side from the Kikkoman which has a tendency to drown other flavors. So I decided to try a less â€œAsianâ€ version and added ingredients more European in natureâ€¦
I heated up a pan, added some olive oil and sautÃ©ed some minced onion and garlic, then added about an eighth of a red bell pepper minced. Sauteed some ground pork and beef and removed some of the excess fat that comes out of the meat. I seasoned with some good sweet Spanish paprika, some oregano, a couple of tablespoons of tomato sauce and some chopped chives. Add some salt and cracked black pepper to taste. This filling looked better alongside the soy sauce version. But then again, Iâ€™m biased.
We cooked the second version the same way as the first and the resulting tortang talong was really quite delicious. It had a more Mediterranean touch and the minced red peppers and slight tomato sauce and distinctive flavor provided by the paprika was very appetizing. I ate an entire eggplant made my way and about half of an eggplant made with the Kikkoman. Yum. You can only imagine how much rice and ketchup I consumed!