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08 Jun 2023

Petty Pandean-Elliott’s roasted aubergine with spicy pili sauce

Petty Pandean-Elliott’s roasted aubergine with spicy pili sauce
Pili nuts are similar to almonds but with a richer, creamier taste. They are plentiful in Maluku, a province comprised of nearly a thousand islands. The province was once known as the Moluccas or The Spice Islands, a historic trading hub for the visiting merchants from China, India and, later, Medieval Europe.  

One of the best places to find pili nuts is in the Banda Islands. Known locally as kacang kanari, pili nut trees have a vital function by offering shade for nutmeg, which could only be found in Banda in the 16th century. (Seedlings were eventually carried to other countries around the world.)  

Serves: 2-4 
Takes: 1 hr 5 mins


For the aubergines 
2 large aubergines  
2 tbsp melted coconut oil 
salt and black pepper, to taste 
For the sauce 
100g natural pili nuts or almonds with skin  
2 tbsp coconut oil  
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped  
1 banana shallot, finely chopped 
2-3 red bird’s eye chillies, sliced 
1-2 tablespoons lime juice * Salt, to taste 
½ tsp white pepper 
small bunch of basil, leaves only, to garnish 

To serve 
turmeric coconut rice (see below) or steamed rice 


  1. Heat oven to 220C, fan 200C, gas 7.  Cut the aubergine into 2-inch pieces using a sharp knife. Place in a roasting pan, drizzle with the melted coconut oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 30-35 mins until soft.  
  2. To make the sauce, place the pili nuts on a baking sheet and roast on the lowest rack of the oven for 10-12 mins.  
  3. Heat the coconut oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallot and sauté for 2-3 mins until fragrant. Add the chillies and sauté for another 2-3 mins. Set aside. 
  4. In a blender, combine the pili nuts, garlic mixture and 200ml water and blend until thick and smooth. If necessary, add a little water. Transfer to a bowl, then add the lime juice. Season with salt and pepper.  
  5. Transfer the aubergines to a large serving plate and drizzle with the sauce. Garnish with basil leaves and serve with rice.  

Turmeric coconut rice 

Serves: 6 
Takes: 45 mins

20g fresh turmeric, peeled and grated, or 2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp salt 
4-5 makrut lime leaves, torn  
1 stalk lemongrass, crushed and tied into a knot 
1 pandan leaf, tied into a knot  
300g short-grain or jasmine rice, well rinsed  
200ml coconut milk  

  1. Place the fresh turmeric in 7 tbsp of water. Mix well, then strain into a small bowl. (Alternatively, combine ground turmeric and water and mix well.) Set aside.  

  2. In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining ingredients. Pour in 200ml water and bring to a boil over a medium heat. Boil for 15 mins and stir occasionally until the water has evaporated. Cover, reduce the heat to low and set aside for 20 mins.  

  3. Remove the lemongrass, pandan and lime leaves before serving. 


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