Although the aubergine (eggplant) originated in India, it is very common and popular in China. It is one of the very few vegetables that requires a longer cooking time than usual.
This is another recipe from Sichuan, where it is sometimes called yu-xiang (meaning ‘fish-fragrant’ or ‘fish-flavoured’) and sometimes translated as ‘Aubergine with fish sauce’. But the interesting point is that no fish is used in the recipe – the sauce is normally used for cooking a fish dish, and hence the name.
1 lb (450 g) aubergines
1 pt (600 ml) oil
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed and finely chopped
2-3 spring onions, finely chopped
2 slices peeled ginger root, finely chopped
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp chilli bean paste(optional)
2 tbsp rice wine or sherry
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp vinegar
a few drops sesame seed oil
Choose the long, purple variety of aubergine rather than the large, round kind, if possible. Wash in cold water and discard the stalks. Cut the aubergines just before cooking, otherwise the white flesh will darken in colour, so you can cut them while waiting for the oil to get heated). Heat up the oil in a wok or deep-fryer until very hot, deep-fry the aubergine for about 3-4 minutes or until soft, scoop out with a perforated spoon or strainer, and drain.
Leave about 1 tablespoon of hot oil in the wok. Throw in the finely chopped garlic, spring onions (white parts only, keep the green parts for later) and ginger root to flavour the oil. Then add chilli bean paste (if using), soy sauce, wine, sugar, vinegar and a little stock or water. Stir to make into a smooth sauce and bring to the boil. Now add the aubergines and braise for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Finally, add the green spring onions and sesame seed oil. Serve hot.
For the non-vegetarians, about 1/4 lb (100 g) thinly shredded pork can be added to the ‘fish sauce’ to enhance the flavour. Add it just after the garlic, spring onions and ginger root, but before the rest of the seasonings.
© Deh-Ta Hsiung and reproduced with his kind permission.