Japanese eggplant

Eggplant is one of my favorite vegetables and whenever I see a new recipe for it I just want to try it right away. This recipe is featured in the March 2013 edition of Saveur Magazine. A few years ago Steven’s colleague at work lent him a wonderful cookbook, “Pei Mei’s Chinese Cookbook Volume 1.” That book had an excellent recipe for Sichuan Eggplant.

vegetarian Sichuan fried and braised eggplant

vegetarian Sichuan fried and braised eggplant

He made it once and we were hooked. I’d say we have this dish at least once a month. It is so flavorful with black bean sauce, ginger, sesame oil, scallions and other delicious ingredients—and eggplant, of course: sweet, savory, sour and lots of umami flavor.

I would say that this recipe is actually a variation on Steven’s version. Both are Sichuanese style using very similar ingredients. In Steven’s recipe he cooks the diced eggplant in a hot pan, just tossing it around until they are done, so the oil absorbed is very little. This recipe calls for deep frying the eggplant, which I did, despite the guilty feeling. To prevent the eggplant from absorbing too much oil they suggest soaking it in ice water first. I’m not sure if that helped much, but it hardly mattered, as the dish itself had such a lovely delicate flavor, you could hardly tell.

vegetarian Sichuan fried and braised eggplant

4 Japanese eggplants
2 cups chopped Chinese chives
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp fresh ginger paste (I used fresh ginger that I ground with a fine micropane)
2 tbsp Chinese chili bean sauce (Toban Djan)
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1½ tsp sugar

Quarter the eggplant lengthwise. Make incisions in a lozenge pattern in the flesh without piecing the skin. Soak pieces in salted cold/ice water for 5-10 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Fry in hot oil (350F) for about 3 minutes. Remove from pan and lay eggplant pieces on paper towels.

Drain all but two tablespoons of frying oil from pan. Add garlic, ginger and cook for a minute just until raw aromas disappear. Add Chinese chives and continue cooking for another minute or so to wilt. Add chili bean sauce, soy sauce and sugar. Continue cooking to warm through. Add eggplant, one cup of hot water, black vinegar and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Drizzle with sesame oil, transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle some Chinese chives over and serve with some rice cooked in the Brazilian way.

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This recipe is very aromatic and satisfying for a cool evening. The grilled eggplant gives the dish a lovely smoky flavor. All the herbs, fresh fennel and root veggies provide a supple elegance.

I’ve taken it from the Ottolenghi book, “Plenty,” with only minor modifications. Really tasty.

lentils with grilled eggplant

aromatic lentils with grilled eggplant

lentils with grilled eggplant

3 Japanese eggplant
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
Salt and black pepper
1 cup black lentils
3 carrots
2 celery stalks
1 bay leaf
2 stalks fennel with some bulb
Small bunch lemon thyme
½ white onion
Olive oil
Salt and black pepper
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 tsp. sugar
2 tbsp chopped parsley
Sour cream for garnish

Set grill on highest temperature. Grill eggplant until soft and skin starts to char, turning occasionally, about ten minutes, Remove from heat, cover with plastic and let rest for 5 minutes. Remove stems and skin. Mash eggplant with a fork.

Pre-heat oven to 275F.

Rinse lentils and remove any stones or debris. Place in saucepan with one carrot, half stalk of celery, bay leaf, lemon thyme, onion and plenty of water. Cover and bring to boil then lower heat to simmer. Cook until tender. Remove celery, carrot, bay leaf, thyme and onion. Drain.

Cut fennel and remaining carrots and celery into small dice. I made mine too large. The book recommends about 3/8 of an inch. I mis-read this direction as ¾ inch. At any rate, think small. Toss with cherry tomato halves, some olive oil, the sugar, some salt then roast in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes until tender but not mushy.

Mix roasted veggies with warm lentils. Add more olive oil, black pepper and salt to taste. Top with grilled eggplant and then a dollop or two of sour cream.

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