BY KOKHEONG MCNAUGHTON
One of the nightshade family of vegetables that grow really well here is eggplant. There are many varieties that you can find at our local Farmer’s Market. My favorite variety is the long eggplant, sometimes referred to as Japanese eggplant or Asian eggplant. This is because their shape is well suited for many different dishes. Sliced diagonally in pairs of two slices hinged together in the middle by making alternating cuts all the way through followed by a second cut not all the way through. Each pair opens up like butterfly wings, and you can stuff it with a mixture of seasoned ground meats and pan-fry till browned and cooked through to make delicious stuffed eggplants. (See picture below.)
Eggplants can be bitter if they are left to grow too big and the seeds inside have turned hard and brown. So, when they are sold by the unit at the grocery store, the biggest is not always the best. The best stage for harvesting your own eggplants is when their skin is still shiny and glossy, before the color turns dull and tinted with yellowish brown. When cut opened, their seeds haven’t yet matured and are tiny and white, almost indistinguishable from the white flesh. However, there are ways to get rid of the bitterness. One way is to rub them with salt
after cutting up, let sit for about half an hour or so, then rinse off the salt and squeeze out the excess water. Another way is simply to steam them.
In this recipe, we will use one of the essential sauces for Chinese cooking. It’s called brown bean sauce, sometimes called ground bean sauce. (See 1st picture below). They can be smooth or chunky, and they can also be spiced with hot chili or garlic. Brown bean sauce is a by product of soy sauce making. It’s the residual after the soy sauce has been filtered. It’s therefore quite salty, and when used in cooking, we don’t need to add salt. But a little bit of sugar is added to bring a balance between sweet and salty. There’s a saying in our cooking: “Add sugar for the salt to bite on.”
Spicy Szechuan Eggplants in Brown Bean Sauce
- ~1# eggplants, cut lengthwise into strips about 1” at the thickest end. Steam covered for about 5 minutes until soft and fork-tender done.
- Remove the eggplants to a plate. Using a pair of chopsticks or two forks, tease the cooked eggplants along their lengths into finer strips.
- Heat 1-2 t olive oil in a skillet.
- If you are using regular brown bean sauce instead of the spiced-up varieties, you can add some chopped garlic and dried hot chili flakes at this point.
- Put in the prepared eggplants and about 1 heaping tablespoon of brown bean sauce. Stir fry and mix quickly to coat them evenly. If they should start to dry out, add a sprinkle of water to keep them from burning.
- Add 1-2 t sugar to taste.
- Garnish with chopped green onions.
- Add a dash of sesame seed oil for aroma.
|Two Varieties of Brown Bean Sauce||Long Eggplants and a sprig of green onions used||The finished product|