Chinese-Style Eggplant

Besides the association with a certain type of suggestive emoji meaning, I think eggplant is a rather underrated vegetable. 

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It is such a beautiful purple when raw but can turn kind of bleh and brown when cooked. Personally, I think it should be cooked thoroughly so you don't end up with bitter or chewy eggplant, but I have found my desire for it to be soft and silky and almost falling apart off-putting to others. I can just hear my sister Kristen saying "Ewwww".  

So perhaps I have turned you even more away from eggplant, but cooking it this way with a savory, garlicky sauce is one of my favorite ways to eat it. When it comes to eggplant size and shape, I prefer small-medium Japanese or Chinese eggplants for this kind of dish. The small globe-shaped Indian eggplants tend to have a skin that is too thick with not enough flesh. The large Italian eggplants are the opposite and have too many seeds. This is a Chinese dish so it makes sense to choose the eggplant best suited for it!

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There are two possible methods for preparing this dish. The first is to steam the eggplant separately. This ensures that the eggplant has already turned silky and soft before you put it in the sauce. A light poke with a knife should feel similar to cutting into soft butter. With this method, it is essential to season the eggplant before steaming so that it doesn't end up bland.

The second method doesn't require steaming but does require longer time simmering in the sauce. Maybe there isn't any difference between the two but I do like knowing that my eggplant is already at the desired texture before adding it to the sauce.

The sauce for this dish is the standard Chinese sauce that I was taught by Popo. It starts by stir frying ginger and garlic in oil and then adding chicken broth, soy sauce, black bean garlic sauce (if you have it) and oyster sauce. It is then thickened with a cornstarch and water slurry until the sauce coats the back of the spoon. This is the sauce I use for many of the Chinese dishes I cook like chow mein, chow fun, egg foo yung and vegetable stir fries. It's very comforting and I made sure there is extra to pour over rice. 

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Perhaps I'll try to figure out how to fry eggplant next?


Chinese-Style Eggplant

Yields: 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 7-8 small-medium Japanese eggplant
  • ½ teaspoon salt (if using Method 1)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced
  • 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon black bean garlic sauce (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons oyster sauce
  • 1½ tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons cold water
  • Rice 
  • Green onions, sliced

Steps

Method 1:

Cut eggplants in half lengthwise and then into 3-4-inch pieces. Season with ½ teaspoon of salt. Steam for 15 minutes or until soft. Add to sauce (see instructions below) and simmer for 5 minutes. Top with green onions and serve with rice.

Method 2: 

Cut eggplants in half lengthwise and then into 3-4-inch pieces. Set aside. Heat oil at medium heat in a large saucepan or wok. Sauté ginger for 1 minute, then add the onions and sauté until brown. Add garlic and sauté for another minute. Add chicken broth, soy sauce, black bean garlic sauce, and oyster sauce. Bring to a simmer. In a small bowl, mix together the cornstarch and water until the cornstarch is dissolved. Pour into the simmering broth and stir quickly to prevent lumps. Add in the eggplant. If not steamed, simmer until eggplant is tender, about 15-20 minutes. Top with green onions and serve with rice.

Feel free to pick out the ginger if you don't like a strong ginger flavor. One friend has suggested omitting fresh ginger altogether and using ginger powder instead. If so, add ¼-½ a teaspoon when adding in the liquid ingredients.