Fish-fragrant eggplant is arguably one of the most popular vegetable dishes on many Chinese restaurant menus. Unfortunately, it is frequently violated by excess sugar, soy sauce and corn starch. This recipe, adapted from the Beijing cooking school Black Sesame Kitchen, is beautifully balanced. The black vinegar adds a touch of acidity that lifts the whole dish. Try infusing the oil with a few Szechuan peppercorns prior to cooking, their tongue tingling properties are sure to add a bit of mystery and fun to your dinner.
2 Chinese or Japanese eggplants
Rice flour (about 1/2 cup)
Vegetable or peanut oil for frying
2 tablespoons broad-bean paste*
2 teaspoons ginger, minced
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 leek (white part only), minced
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon soy sauce
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cornstarch (dissolved in 1 teaspoon of water)
1 teaspoon black vinegar
- Cut the eggplants into 1 inch diagonal pieces (turn the eggplant slightly after each diagonal slice so you end up with diamond shaped pieces). Toss the eggplants with the rice flour, lightly coating each piece.
- Heat the oil in a wok or deep frying pan. Heat for about 5 minutes (you want to see white smoke drifting off the sides of the pan)
- Add eggplant to oil, deep-fry for 3-4 minutes until golden. Remove eggplant with spider or similar straining device. Drain the oil from pan (feel free to use a second pan or wok if you want)
- Return two tablespoons of oil to the pan. Add broad bean paste, cook for 30 seconds. Add minced ginger, garlic and leek. Cook for another 30 seconds. Add water, sugar, soy sauce and salt. Stir.
- Return cooked eggplants to the pan, toss gently in the sauce for a few minutes. Stir in the cornstarch mixture to thicken. Add black vinegar.
- Remove from heat and serve immediately
*If you want to add Szechuan peppercorns and/or dried chili peppers roast them in the oil before adding the broad bean paste. Just remember to remove them once they turn brown and before adding any other ingredients.
*When cooking with a wok you want to have all your prep completed and on hand before you begin the cooking process so that you can work quickly and efficiently. Actual cooking time should be minimal.