Chinese eggplant

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There was tension at the vegetable party.

The Italian eggplant was drunk. Swaying his fat hips, he stumbled his way to where the slim, lovely Chinese eggplant was sipping a Jasmine tea. “Hey! Paisan! Goombah!”

She narrowed her eyes. “Do I know you?”

“Yes, cugina! You and me, we’re related! You’re an eggplant, I’m an eggplant … bada boom!” He knocked the teacup from her hand.

Appalled, the Chinese eggplant sidled away, while the Italian eggplant was smearing tomato sauce on his chest, writhing on the floor and laughing. She turned and called after him. “Don’t ever mistake me for one of you!”

Sadly for the Chinese eggplant, this lavender beauty is in fact related to the Crayola purple “Barney” of the vegetable world. But don’t ever mix them up in the kitchen. While our Italian friend lays it on thick with the eggplant parmesan, the Greek with the moussaka, and Middle Easterner with the smoky and elegant baba ghannouj, the Chinese eggplant and her Asian compatriots are more prone to show their rich, aromatic side.

One of my favorite Chinese dishes is the simple Sichuan Eggplant. The Chinese eggplant is stir-fried with garlic, ginger and a perfumy sauce spiked with Sichuan pepper. It caramelizes beautifully and can be enjoyed with rice or noodles (in fact, it is similar to a Thai spicy eggplant stirfry, which might only add fish sauce, sweet red pepper and/or Thai basil). I like to spike my Sichuan Eggplant with a little Chinese chili oil (or Thai chili garlic sauce), but you may prefer the delicate flavor and subtle heat of the recipe “as is.”

This surprisingly easy recipe for Sichuan Eggplant (assuming you have the ingredients) is from New York-based Diana Kuan’s terrific blog, “Appetite for China.”

Ingredients

• 11⁄2 pounds Asian eggplant

• 2 tblsp. chicken or vegetable stock, or substitute water

• 2 tblsp. chili bean paste

• 2 tblsp. soy sauce

• 2 tblsp.  Chinese black vinegar, or good-quality balsamic vinegar

• 1 tblsp. Chinese rice wine or dry sherry

• 2 tsp. sugar

• 2 tblsp. peanut or vegetable oil

• 3 garlic cloves, minced

• 1 tblsp.  minced ginger

• 1 tsp. cornstarch

• 1⁄2 tsp. ground Sichuan pepper,
or 1⁄4 tsp. cayenne pepper

• Scallions, thinly sliced, garnish

Directions

1. If using rice, cook according to package directions.

2. Slice each eggplant in half lengthwise, then slice each length into quarters. Cut each quarter in somewhat substantial, but still bite-sized, cubes (about 11⁄4-inch to 11⁄2-inch cubes).

3. Prepare the sauce: In a small bowl, mix together chicken stock, chili bean paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar, rice wine, sugar, and cornstarch. Set aside.

4. Heat the oil in a wok over high heat until a bead of water sizzles and evaporates on contact. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and swirl the pan to coat the base and sides. Add the eggplants and stir-fry until outsides become golden brown and insides begin to soften, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and Sichuan peppercorn and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in the sauce mixture and mix well. Simmer for 3 to 4 minutes to allow the eggplant to full cook and the sauce to thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon.

5. Remove from heat, plate, and sprinkle scallions on top.

 Enjoy, and don’t look back. The Italian eggplant is now wrestling with a garlic bulb in a vat of warm cheese.

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Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel, PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and wrote a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor.
 

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