The Mixing Bowl: Sichuan-style pork and eggplant


Cooking Chinese style can be a challenge, and it is a lot easier to just go out to a restaurant where you can order a few different dishes, more than you would easily prepare yourself. Even so, I’ve always been interested in exploring different cuisines, so over the years I have gathered a few English language Chinese cookbooks. Most of the recipes I tried produced sorry imitations of what you find in most Chinese restaurants. I’ve discovered that one problem is the ingredients. With the combination of the Internet and an influx of Chinese immigrants into the Bay Area, it has become possible to attempt to make more authentic dishes. A short pop over the hill to one of the five 99 Ranch Markets in the San Jose area will give you a culinary experience you won’t forget. The website itself is a neon blast of colors and flavors.

I'm also a news junkie and spend a little too much time checking the computer for news from around the world. Since I was in Hong Kong last year, I like to follow the South China Morning Post, available through Apple News. They have an excellent food section and since Hong Kong was a British Colony for a time, the instructions are usually clear and easy to read. Thusly, I have been seduced into the world of Chinese cooking and this recipe is one example.

This particular dish is served in many Chinese restaurants. It does involve buying at least one Chinese condiment, doubanjiang - also written as toban djan. It is made with fermented fava and soybeans and has a pleasant aged cheese taste. The recipe also calls for tianmianjiang, similar to doubanjiang, but sweeter. I admit to substituting hoisin sauce for the tianmianjiang since I already had it. The dish may have suffered because of this but it still tasted great. The minced pork blends compatibly with the eggplant and both are spiced up with the ginger, garlic, pepper and bean paste.

Not only because both cultures utilize noodles and pasta, Asian and Italian cooking are similar because many ingredients need to be prepared first before hitting the stove. Things go fast once you start cooking. Also, this recipe involves deep fat frying, so be careful. It will serve two to three people. Double the batch for more servings.  Finally, because some Chinese cooking demands cooking at a high heat, it’s a good idea to use a good carbon steel wok. Flat-bottomed ones are available to use on electric stoves. A good cast iron or stainless-steel frying pan can also be used.

Sichuan style eggplant

1 pound eggplants

1 cup high heat cooking oil like avocado, peanut or corn oil

½ pound minced pork

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 tablespoon minced white of leeks

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2-3 red chili peppers, diced or a teaspoon dried, according to taste

Coriander for garnish

1 teaspoon sweet bean paste, tianmianjiang, or hoisin

1 heaping tablespoon hot bean paste, doubanjiang

1 teaspoon sugar

Prepare your ingredients by mincing the ginger, leeks, chili peppers and garlic.

Cut the eggplants into ¾ inch chunks. Set up stove for deep fat frying. Deep-fry them in hot oil until they just change color. Do not overcook; they get mushy. Drain immediately in a colander and set aside. Pour off all the oil except for about 1 tablespoon.

Fry the minced ginger, leek and garlic in the hot oil. Add the chili. When the mixture is fragrant, add the minced pork and the sweet and hot bean pastes.

Finally, add the eggplants and toss to coat with the spicy mix. Cover the pan and cook for five minutes. Remove the pan cover and add a splash of water and the sugar.

Adjust the seasoning after tasting, then toss for a minute more and serves.

Yuxiangqiezi

3-4 small eggplants, about 1 pound

1 cup high heat oil for deep frying

½ pound minced pork

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 tablespoon minced white of leeks

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2-3 red chili peppers, diced

Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

1 teaspoon sweet bean paste, tianmianjiang or substitute hoisin sauce

1 heaping tablespoon chili bean sauce, doubanjiang

1 teaspoon sugar

Prepare your ingredients so they’ll be ready to go when you need them.

Start the rice. It will be done about the same time as the eggplant.

Cut the eggplants into ¾-inch chunks. Set up for deep-frying with a colander in a bowl to catch the chunks as they come out of the oil and then pie pan covered with paper towels for the final draining. Deep-fry them in very hot oil until they just change color. Drain immediately and reserve.

Pour away most of the oil, leaving about a tablespoon in the pan, and fry the minced ginger, leeks and garlic. Add the chili. When the mixture is fragrant, add the minced pork and the sweet and hot bean pastes.

Finally, add the eggplant and toss to coat with the spicy mix. Cover the pan and cook for five minutes. Remove the pan cover and add a splash of water and the sugar.

Adjust the seasoning after tasting, then toss for a minute more and serve with rice.

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