3 Thai dried chilis, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes to soften
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping tbsp dried shrimp
1 tsp salt
1 medium tomato, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup (about 2 oz) ground pork (optional)
1/2 tsp ground turmeric (optional)
1 1/2 lbs Asian eggplants, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
5-8 leaves mint or cilantro, coarsely torn
Drain the chiles, reserving the soaking water. Coarsely chop, discarding the tough stems, and place in a mortar or blender together with shallots, garlic, dried shrimp and salt. Pound or process to a paste (if using a blender, you might need to add some of the chili soaking water). Add the tomato and pound or blend briefly. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Place a 3-4 quart heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid over moderately-high heat (we used our Le Creuset braiser). Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pot with oil. Add the pork (if using) and brown briefly, then add the spice paste and optional turmeric. Lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring, until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Add the eggplant slices and stir briefly, cover tightly and reduce heat to low. Cook, checking every 5 minutes or so to ensure that nothing is sticking and to briefly stir the eggplant mixture, for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The eggplant is done when very tender and shapeless. Taste and season with additional salt (if necessary).
Turn out into a shallow bowl and top with mint/cilantro. Serve warm or at room temperature.