Tuesday 23 October 2007

Eggplant with garlic sauce

In keeping with my recent craving for foods from home, I have been reaching with regularity for the Chinese food cookbooks on my shelf. One which I have used with some frequency is the Shun Lee cookbook from the restuarant of the same name in the Big Apple. When I used to live there some years ago, I only ever went to eat there once, preferring to wander into Chinatown instead whenever I needed my Chinese food fix. Still, the book is a treasure trove of good Chinese recipes and everything that I have tried from it so far has turned out good.

This time, I chose to make eggplant with garlic sauce, another dish of Sichuan origin. In order to up the heartiness quotient of the dish, I decided to tweak it slightly by adding some minced pork. The results were surprisingly good and were reminiscent of a ma po tofu. Even M, who isn't big on eggplant, turned out to be a fan.

Eggplant with Garlic Sauce
Adapted from Shun Lee cookbook

4 small Japanese eggplants (about 1 pound total), trimmed
1/2 pound minced pork
Vegetable oil

for the sauce:
2 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp distilled white vinegar
1 tbsp rice wine
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1 tbsp cornstarch

1 scallion, white and green parts, trimmed and minced
1 tbsp peeled and minced fresh ginger
6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
I tbsp hot bean paste
1 tsp hot chili oil
1 tbsp dark sesame oil

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Keep the water at a simmer. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and place it near the stove.

Using a sharp knife, lightly score the skin of the eggplants in a crosshatch pattern, with the lines about 1 inch apart. Halve or quarter the eggplants lengthwise to make sticks about 1/2 inch wide. Cut the sticks into 2-inch lengths.

Heat a large wok over high heat. Add enough oil to come about 1 1/2 inches up the sides of the wok, and heat it to 325F. Working in batches without crowding, add the eggplant to the oil and fry until it softens but still holds its shape, about 45 seconds. Do not overcook. Using a wide wire-mesh strainer, dip the eggplant briefly in the hot water, then spread it out on the paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining eggplant, wiping the strainer dry after each frying. DIscard all but 2 tbsp of the oil from the wok.

Saute the minced pork in a frying pan until cooked and set aside.

To begin the sauce, mix the soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, rice wine, and white pepper in a small bowl, and set it aside. Dissolve the cornstarch in 3 tbsp cold water in another small bowl, and set it aside.

Return the wok with 2 tbsp of oil to high heat. Add the scallion, ginger, and garlic, and stir-fry until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the hot bean paste and the soy sauce mixture and stir-fry for 15 seconds. Add the eggplant and minced pork, then stir-fry until the sauce is boiling and the eggplant and pork are hot. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir until the sauce thickens, about 10 seconds. Add the hot chili oil and stir-fry for 10 seconds more. Add the sesame oil and serve immediately.

Serves 4