200g soba noodles
2 large eggplants (about 800g)
extra virgin olive oil
1.25cm piece of ginger, peeled, grated
1 clove garlic, grated
sea salt and black pepper
125ml (½ cup) Nearly Nước Chấm (see recipe)
1 cup Asian herb leaves, such as Thai basil, Vietnamese mint, coriander, green onions (shallots), perilla leaves, finely sliced
roasted sesame oil, for drizzling
½ cup roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
NEARLY NUÓC CHẤM makes about ½ cup
80ml (⅓ cup) lime juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
1 clove garlic, grated
1 long red chilli, finely sliced
½ teaspoon salt

This recipe is inspired by the lively, fragrant grilled eggplant dishes in Vietnamese cuisine. Here, spongy eggplants are grilled until silky and tender, and then tossed with nearly nước chấm, my piquant vegan take on this foundational Vietnamese sauce. If you are barbecuing, the eggplant could also be cooked on the hotplate for a smoky edge. Load this soba noodle salad with as many herbs as you can handle, for heightened vibrancy and fresh textures. As with all soba noodle salads, I recommend cooking the noodles a day ahead (or at least a few hours prior), tossing in some sesame or neutral oil and storing them in the fridge overnight, as this helps the noodles develop a firmer structure to stand up to the robust dressing.

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1.Preheat the grill setting in your oven to high.
2.Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil.
3.Add the soba noodles and cook according to the packet instructions, until al dente.
4.Drain immediately and run under cold water until the noodles are completely cold. Set aside to drain.
5.Slice the eggplants into 1.25cm-thick discs, then lay them flat and slice them into batons.
6.Place the eggplant on a baking tray, drizzle over 2–3 tablespoons of olive oil and add the ginger and garlic.
7. Season well with sea salt and place under the grill, about 5cm from the heat source, for 5 minutes, watching the eggplant closely so it doesn’t burn.
8.Flip the eggplant over and grill for another 4–5 minutes, again watching closely, until the eggplant is tender and golden.
9.Remove from the grill and transfer to a plate.
10.While still warm, pour over the nearly nước chấm and toss to coat.
11.Combine the eggplant, noodles and herbs in a large bowl and season with sea salt and black pepper. Toss well.
12. Drizzle with sesame oil and serve with the peanuts scattered over the top.
14.Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl.

This is an edited extract
by Hetty Lui McKinnon,

Macmillan Publishers,

RRP $69.99. Food

photography by Hetty

Lui McKinnon, author

photo by Shirley Cai.