I grew up eating American Chinese food in New England. This was mainly take-out or at restaurants on special occasions like Christmas Eve. Chinese places were always open on December 24th for some reason. The whole family was really into the fried stuff, like eggrolls and dumplings. When I was quite young, we’d order this amazing dish called the Pu Pu Platter. This came in a large wooden tray with a bunch of separate bowl-like sections for different appetizers. But what made the platter truly wonderful was the blue flaming torch in its center! The tray would always have a bunch of fried items like eggrolls and batter coated shrimp. In addition there’d be various meats like spare ribs and steak teriyaki that you could re-heat over the flame. Very festive!
Now that I’m pescetarian and have middle aged problems like elevated cholesterol, I’m trying to get away from the fried meaty stuff. Also, I’ve traveled to China and realize that there’s a lot more to their cuisine than just the bland French-fry styled foods so popular in this country. I’ve a wonderful colleague at work, Lila, who recommended a recipe for Szechuan eggplant. I’ve modified it a bit by removing the ground pork, using less sugar and trying it with rehydrated soy protein. Otherwise this is more or less the traditional method for preparing the dish. Because there’s a lot of ingredients involved and I don’t really measure them that accurately, each time I prepare this, it tastes and looks differently. I like the surprise.
Soy sauce and toasted sesame oil are fairly widely available these days. I get the hot bean sauce in specialty Chinese markets in the Richmond or Sunset districts of San Francisco.
Vegetarian Szechuan Eggplant
3 large or 4 to 5 medium Chinese or Japanese eggplant, cut into medium dice
3 tbs. vegetable oil
1 bulb garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 inch piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 to 2 tbs. hot bean sauce, depending on taste
3 cups vegetable stock
1 tsp. salt
½ to 1 tsp. sugar
2 tbs. soy sauce
1 tsp. Toasted sesame oil
1 tsp. Chinese brown vinegar or similar (I use cider vinegar)
6 spring onions, cleaned and sliced into thin rounds
8 to 10 fresh mushrooms, cut in quarters
1 cup rehydrated soy protein
1. Sautee diced eggplant in vegetable oil over high heat for a few minutes until starts to become a bit soft. Remove from pan and place in colander to drain.
2. In medium bowl, add sugar, salt, soy sauce and vegetable stock. Stir and set aside.
3. In same pan, add ginger, garlic and hot bean sauce. Stir over high heat for about a minute until spices become fragrant. Add eggplant to spices. Stir to mix.
4. Pour vegetable stock mixture over eggplant. If using mushrooms or rehydrated soy protein, add this now. Heat liquid to poi8ling then lower heat to maintain medium to vigorous simmer.
5. Cook until most of the water has evaporated and a thick sauce has formed.
6. Remove from heat. Stir in toasted sesame oil, vinegar, and spring onion. Serve at once with rice.
This dish is actually pretty easy to make once you get all of the chopping done. It’s always enjoyable to eat. I make my own vegetable stock by boiling about three to four cups of water and adding a cleaned carrot, peeled onion and stalk or two of celery. The stock cooks while I’m chopping the other ingredients.