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Eggplant cooked Sichuan-style with plenty of garlic, ginger, scallions, and lots of heat! Perfect for all you fire eaters out there.
Photography Credit:Elise Bauer
Are eggplants showing up in your local markets yet? They are here, and guest author Garrett has tossed together a classic Chinese dish using long and tender asian eggplants from the farmers market. Enjoy! ~Elise
The actual name for this dish in Sichuan cuisine oddly translates to “Fish-Fragrant” Eggplant. Confusing, as this dish has no fish anywhere in it. You see, in Sichuan cuisine there are 23 complex flavors. These range from red-oil flavor, hot and sour flavor, lychee flavor, to strange flavor, and many others. Fish-Fragrant is one of the most celebrated.
Fish-Fragrant is a combination of salty, sweet, sour, and spicy tastes that come from ginger, garlic, scallions and fermented or pickled chilies. It is so named because these flavors are often used to enhance fish.
Often times in earlier Chinese history, if home cooks were unable to procure fresh fish for meals, they had to make do with older fish that might have had too intense of a fishy taste. The ingredients and tastes that make up the fish-fragrant flavor are all strong and could cover the odors of seafood that wasn’t the most fresh.
These days many people can get perfectly fresh fish. However, fish-fragrant flavor is still quite popular. This is especially true in the Sichuan region of China where the native cuisine is known for being molten hot.
We’ve toned the heat of this dish down considerably for the everyday non-Sichuan eater as the original recipe is like swallowing lava. You can practically feel it turn your organs to ash from the inside out. Even if you fancy yourself a talented fire-eater, use only a small amount of the chili bean paste your first try as it is incredibly spicy.
Sichuan Eggplant Recipe
This recipe calls for asian eggplants, or Japanese eggplants. They are long and thin compared to a European or globe eggplant, and much more tender and delicate. If you can't find them you can substitute globe eggplant, but the dish is really best with the asian eggplant.
- 1 1/2 lbs. asian (long and skinny) eggplant
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil
- 1/4 cup chicken stock (substitute vegetable stock for vegetarian)
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/2 - 1 1/2 tablespoons chili bean paste*
- 1 to 2 teaspoons crushed sichuan peppercorns** (optional, but inauthentic without)
- 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon corn starch
- 2 teaspoons Chinkiang vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 4 scallions, roughly chopped
- Cilantro for garnish (optional)
*A lot of grocery stores have Asian ingredient aisles now. You should be able to find chili-bean paste, a mixture of preserved chilies mixed with mashed soybeans, there or at any Asian market. (Do not confuse with black bean paste or chili-garlic paste.)
**Sichuan peppercorns are available at some stores and online for quite cheap. They aren't spicy like other peppers but rather have a citrusy flavor and induce a tingly, numbing sensation like a carbonated drink.
1 Prep eggplant, chili sauce, cornstarch slurry, vinegar and scallions: Begin your mise en place. Quarter the eggplant lengthwise and chop into large batons and set aside.
In a small bowl, mix together the chicken stock, sugar, and soy sauce and set it aside.
In a second bowl, mix together the chili bean paste, garlic, ginger, and sichuan peppercorns and set it aside.
In a third bowl, mix together the cornstarch with a tablespoon of water and set it aside.
Lastly, in a fourth bowl, mix together the scallions and vinegar and set it aside.
2 Sauté eggplant: Place the oil in a wok or large sauté pan over medium-high heat until the oil is almost smoking. Add the eggplant and sauté, allowing it to sit for a few seconds each time you move it to allow it to brown and blister. If the eggplant absorbs all the oil and some pieces don't get any then add a little more oil.
3 Add the chili bean paste, garlic, ginger, and sichuan peppercorns and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
4 Add the chicken stock mixture, turn the heat to medium-low and simmer for 90 seconds.
5 Add the cornstarch mixture and stir together until the sauce thickens a bit.
6 Add the scallions and vinegar and cook for 15 seconds to diffuse their harsh flavors a bit.
Garnish with cilantro and serve.
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Scrumptious Sides: Sichuan Eggplant
Every now and then I am prone to odd cravings. It's usually because I've either been away and I've had food from a particular country that I've fallen in love with (my recent trip to Bangkok is one example that saw me trolling Sydney streets for black sticky rice desserts). Or it is because I've seen something on a blog or on television and decided that I need to eat it then and there.
And then there's the craving that hits me once every week or so in which I have to have Chinese food. I blame my parents for their consistent pushing of Chinese food during my formative years ) But if I don't have something Chinese every week or two then I start to get a little strange-or make that stranger.
I must admit that I didn't grow up eating this exact dish-my mother never cooked eggplant this way but I've since had it at several Sichuan restaurants in Sydney and it is always met with the same rapturous declaration of "I loove eggplant!" Not a normal utterance for most but one that never fails to come forth with this dish.
When I bought about six of those slender, dark purple Japanese eggplants I decided to try my hand at recreating this very popular Sichuan dish. The key ingredient is Sichuan peppercorns or "flower peppers", a pretty pink peppercorn that gives a most uniquely addictive numbing sensation on the palate. They're not actually peppercorns but berries from a prickly ash tree. The Chinese like the fiery husks which they call hu?ji?owhile the Japanese like the milder berries which they call sansh?. These tiny citrusy, numbing balls feature in many spicy Sichuan dishes along with their frequent counterpart chillies and is also one of the five ingredients in the Chinese five spice mix. It is said that the numbing properties of the Sichuan peppercorn lessen the heat giving properties of chillies so combining the two is an ideal mix to give the "hot and numbing" sensation that is unique to Sichuan cuisine.
I initially said that this is a side dish but on the night that I made this, I ate this by itself for dinner with some boiled white rice all the while trying to stop Mr NQN from stealing my half as he loved it so much. It's spicy but not overly so and I think there is some logic to the numbing effect of this peppercorn on a normally spicy chilli. The eggplant takes on an appealing sweetness while the other flavours balance it boldly-this is not a dish for a shrinking violet but for someone that loves strong flavours. The rice soaked up the glossy dark sauce and before I knew it, not a single peppercorn was left behind.
So tell me Dear Reader, what dish or cuisine do you crave?
DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE? Share your creations by tagging @notquitenigella on Instagram with the hashtag #notquitenigella
Chinese Eggplant Salad Recipe
Eggplant is one of the treasure purple food that loved by Chinese people. And it tastes really good no matter in salad, stir-fries or braising recipes. If you love restaurant Chinese food or take out, you may see eggplant in hot garlic sauce on many menus. That’s one of the most popular eggplant recipes in Sichuan cuisine known as Yu Xiang Eggplant in Chinese.
This eggplant recipe I introduced today is requested by reader Christine about a cold eggplant salad served with a stick. Yes, in restaurants, this dish usually is served with a server similar to garlic presser and a stick. In Chinese, we call this as Leibo Eggplant which means eggplant salad served in Leibo. So you can mash the eggplant and soak them in the sauce for a better absorptio. This is for some fun during the dinner. However if you do not have that server like me, you can also enjoy this recipe.
Firstly, check the ingredients, I am using long green chili pepper known as Line pepper in China. Those peppers can be replaced by cayenne peppers. You need to cut them into small circles or dices. But be careful with your hand during the process.
For the eggplants, I am using long purple eggplants. Steaming is highly recommended in order to keep the color mostly.
After steaming, cool the eggplants down and cut into small strips. Lay in your serving bowl. Stir fry the pepper and garlic and make the sauce.
For a much spicier taste, just stir fry around half of your peppers and keep the rest fresh. For a milder taste, fry your peppers for a longer time to reduce the spiciness.
Pour the sauce over your eggplants. And soak them for around 10 minutes before serving. Each time before eating the eggplant, re-soak it in the sauce.
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Sichuan-Style "Fish-Fragrant" Eggplant
Despite the name, there is no trace of fish in this delicious eggplant dish. Originating from the Sichuan province in China, 魚香 (yu xiang) literally means "fish fragrance" and describes a flavor profile that was originally used in preparing fish dishes from the region. Usually involving pickled chilis, fermented bean paste, green onions, garlic, ginger, this potently punchy but harmoniously savory spice combination grew in popularity and is now used to season vegetable stir-fries and meat stews alike.
Savory Sichuan cuisine is often characterized by impeccable wok stir-fry technique, involving super high heat and fast-actioned tossing that ensures perfect, even cooking. To approximate the distinctive aromas and textures at home, follow our tips below for making a mighty eggplant stir-fry with your humble stovetop.
Choosing your oil
For searing the eggplant and stir frying the sauce, use animal fat, like lard or schmaltz, if you want to really heighten the savory flavors in this dish to the max. Peanut oil can be great for a little hint of nuttiness, but any vegetarian cooking oil&mdashlike canola&mdashwill work perfectly fine. No matter what cooking oil you choose to use, we recommend also adding a couple of teaspoons of toasted sesame oil towards the end of the cooking process to up the fragrance factor.
Choosing your eggplant
While you can use any variety of eggplant for this dish, it's traditionally made with Chinese eggplants. Longer and sleeker in shape than the ubiquitous globe eggplant of North America, its skin is thinner and its flesh is finer and silkier when cooked. If you can get your hands on Chinese eggplants, use 'em! After slicing your eggplant into large two-biter pieces, be sure to toss them evenly with kosher salt and let them sit for 20 to 30 minutes in order to draw out the moisture from within: This process will help tenderize the eggplant and achieve that creaminess we're after.
To make this dish without deep-frying the eggplant in a wok over a roaring hot flame at home, we're tossing the eggplant in cornstarch before pan-searing it in batches. Maintain a solid medium heat, keep the bottom of the pan coated with a thin layer of oil at all times, and toss the eggplant every minute or so until even golden color develops across each piece. This step par-cooks the eggplants so that they're softened but still holding their shape. When the eggplants later return to the pan to finish cooking to perfect tenderness, the sauce will thicken to a glossy consistency and coat each piece of eggplant as the cornstarch gradually melts into the dish.
How spicy do you like it?
While Sichuanese cuisine has gained a reputation for extraordinary levels of spiciness, the emphasis of fish-fragrant eggplant is on the "fragrant" (香). Traditionally, this dish is made with a special variety of Sichuan pickled peppers and a specific fermented broad bean paste called doubanjiang. Lee Kum Kee retails a couple of different chili bean sauces and fermented black bean sauces, which is probably as close to the original Pixian variety as we can get in North America. To approximate the pickled peppers, I chose to substitute in sambal oelek (usually found on the shelf where Sriracha lives), but you can also use fresh, thinly sliced Thai chilis.
To add a different layer of flavor and heat, I'm also using ground Sichuan peppercorns for that tingly numbing spice sensation, as well as some dried chilis for a faint smokiness. These are both optional, but if you live for Scoville-fueled adrenaline rushes, don't skip 'em. For super spicy results, cut the dried chilis open to release the seeds for flavor with less heat, keep them whole and avoid chewing on them when eating the dish!
A tale of two vinegars
We're using both rice wine vinegar and Chinese black vinegar (also known as Chinkiang vinegar), but if you can't find the latter, just use more of the former. Rice wine vinegar is sweeter and brighter tasting, and the black vinegar adds a deeper, molasses-like, almost-medicinal acidity. The two play together well to create a mellow blend of fresh and earthy tones.
It can be vegetarian!
Some versions of fish-fragrant eggplant contains minced pork for added richness and umami, but our version does not. While we do use chicken broth in the sauce, you could substitute vegetable broth or water for a completely vegan version. While chicken broth will add extra umami, there's a lot of other delicious seasonings in the dish (including an entire head of garlic, yes) to carry you through to eggplant paradise.
A word on MSG
If you don't have it on hand, or simply don't want to use it, feel free to leave it out! I find that MSG adds a nice, rounded savory flavor that's not quite salty, not quite sweet, and not quite funky&mdashhard to pinpoint, but really magical as a mystery spice. It's often found in the seasoning mix in all of my favorite packaged chips, so it's no wonder I love the stuff. Between the 20-minute express salt-cure, the soy sauce, and the bean paste, there's already a good amount of sodium kicking around in the recipe, but taste as you go and add a pinch of salt if you want that flavor to hit your preferred salt levels.
This dish pairs extremely well with steamed rice, and tastes even better the next day: store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge and eat it cold or hot, your choice. If you've made this recipe, drop us a line down below in the comments, leave us a rating, and let us know how you liked it! If you're in love with eggplants now, our recipes for baked eggplant parm and grilled eggplant await!
To begin making the Eggplant in Chilli Garlic Sauce Recipe, we will first get all the ingredient ready.
Our first step is to roast the eggplant until they are soft. To do this, into a wok, heat 2 teaspoons of oil on medium heat. Add the cut ginger, garlic, spring onions and eggplants, sprinkle salt and stir fry for a couple of minutes. After a couple of minutes, turn the heat to low, cover the pan and simmer until the eggplants are tender and roasted.
Once you notice that the eggplants are almost ready, we will get our sauce ready.
To make the sauce, into a bowl, add the corn flour and 3/4 cup of water and whisk well to combine. Add the remaining sauces to the corn flour mixture and whisk well with a fork, until the mixture get a rich color. Keep aside.
Note: the above sauce mixture has a lot of sauce, so check the salt and adjust to suit your taste.
Note: You will know the eggplant is cooked through when you press it with a spoon it almost gets mashed
Once the eggplant is cooked through, add the sauce to the eggplant and turn the heat to medium heat. Keep stirring gently, until the sauce thickens. After the sauce thicks, adjust the consistency of the sauce, by adding water is required. Once again check the salt and spice levels and adjust it to suit your taste.
Simmer for another couple of minutes and turn off the heat.
Transfer the Chinese Eggplant in Spicy Chilli Garlic Sauce to a serving bowl and serve it along with Chinese Vegetable Fried Rice or Vegetable Hakka Noodles
Sichuan Eggplant (鱼香茄子)
I was never big on eggplant until I discovered this Sichuan eggplant dish. The sauce is outstanding and it’s an absolute rice destroyer. In Mandarin, the dish is called 鱼香茄子 (yuxiang qiezi) which translates literally into “fish fragrance eggplant”. This “fish fragrance” isn’t the actual taste or smell of fish, but a prevailing flavour of Sichuan cuisine that incorporates the balance of salty, sour, sweet, spicy, fragrant with the freshness of ginger, garlic and spring onion. This flavour profile was originally used in the cooking of fish, which is how the name came about.
I’m using OmniMeat mince this time, but I’ve also use minced TVP or omitted the mince. Honestly, I felt that the OmniMeat was a little wasted on this dish because the sauce was so flavourful that any meat replacement would’ve done a fine job. It’s totally cool to just use what you have available!
This Sichuan eggplant dish is now one of my favourite eggplant dishes, and once you get used to the deep frying part, it’s really very easy to make.
See cooking instructions below for more information on the chilli bean sauce that I use.
- Kosher salt
- 1 1/2 pounds Chinese or Japanese eggplants (about 3), trimmed, split into quarters lengthwise and cut into 3- to 4-inch lengths
- 2 red Thai bird chilies (or any small hot red chili)
- 3 tablespoons white vinegar or rice wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Chinkiang vinegar (use a not-too-fancy balsamic vinegar in its place if unavailable)
- 1 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
- 4 medium cloves minced garlic (about 4 teaspoons)
- 4 scallions, whites thinly sliced, greens cut into 1/3-inch segments
- 2 tablespoons Sichuan chili broad bean paste (Doubanjiang)
- Roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
Once you have your noodles, protein, and veggies picked out, it&rsquos time to gather the rest of the ingredients.
Because stir fries are cooked at high heat, things move very quickly when you start cooking. This means you should have everything out, chopped, and measured before you turn the stove on.
Everything else you need for this recipe is there to build the flavor!
The most important ingredient is going to be your sichuan peppercorns. They are irreplaceable for the unique heat and flavor, not to mention mild tongue tingle! If you&rsquove had them, you know exactly what I&rsquom talking about!
I have a bag of whole sichuan peppercorns stashed in my pantry, and just prep them as needed. The husks are not pleasant to eat, so to prepare them I first toast the peppercorns, which releases their flavor. Then I grind them in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle which crushes the inner peppercorn while leaving the coarse husk mostly whole. Lastly just use a mesh strainer to separate out the ground peppercorn from the husks. Discard the husk and use the ground pepper!
Next it&rsquos the usual suspects, garlic, chili peppers, and green onions, fried in oil to release their flavors and mellow some of the sharp bite.
Lastly we have the sauces!
Light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, and Chinese cooking wine.
Different Asian cultures have their own light and dark soy sauces, but you find the combination of light and dark soy sauce in recipes across cultures. And it&rsquos this combination, along with the cooking wine, that brings such a depth of flavor to the dishes.
Light soy sauce is milder in flavor, it&rsquos nice and salty while still having a nice fermented soy aroma.
Dark soy sauce tastes less salty, is darker in color, and is a bit sweet. It&rsquos aged longer than light soy sauce and has a more concentrated flavor.
Chinese cooking wine, also called shaoxing wine, is a quintessential ingredient in Chinese stir fries. It&rsquos a rice-based wine that is made specifically for cooking, and it is salty!
Similarly to adding white wine to an Italian pasta dish, or even vodka, the alcohol adds a lot of flavor to the finished dish. It&rsquos best to not skip it!
Recipe: Sichuan Eggplant with Garlic
Here’s the Sichuan Eggplant with Garlic recipe I used for my Douban Jiang taste test. It’s adapted from a similar prep on the Steamy Kitchen blog. Serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side.
2 lbs Asian eggplant (about 5)*
Peanut or other neutral oil for wok
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ jalapeño, chopped
½ inch chunk fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 or more green onions, cut in half lengthwise and then chopped, including part of the green
2 t douban jiang (Sichuan chili bean sauce)
1 T soy sauce
1 T Chinese black vinegar
Pinch of sugar (maybe 1/2 t), optional
Method: slice the eggplant lengthwise into ¾ inch slices. (You can also use standard round eggplant but you should peel them first, and the finished dish won’t be as visually attractive.) Sprinkle both sides with salt and let sit upright in a colander until a good amount of water has leached out, about 30 minutes. Pat dry with paper towels.
Heat about 2 T oil in a wok and add garlic and ginger cook until fragrant, a couple of minutes. Add jalapeño and green onion and sauté briefly, then add eggplant and cook until tender, about 5 minutes, turning frequently. Add soy sauce, vinegar, douban jiang and sugar and cook briefly until you can smell the chilis. Toss to combine and serve hot.
Get yourself to your Asian grocer
This recipe calls for a few more obscure ingredients that will definitely call for a trip to your local Asian supermarket. Once you’re there, the ingredients are almost sure to be available (ask if you’re not sure), and they’re inexpensive, so go on and try something new. Asian supermarkets are one of my happy places, I love wandering the aisles and picking up something new to try.
So what will you need? There are four things in this recipe that you probably don’t already have.
- Chilli bean paste.
- Black vinegar.
- Shao hsing cooking wine.
- Szechuan peppercorns.
The chilli bean paste is also known as toban djan, or doubanjiang. It’s a blend of chilli and fermented broad beans, not dissimilar to Korean gochujang. Check out my gochujang recipes #1, #2 and #3 if you’re into it. The chilli bean paste I bought has wheat in it, so not ideal if you’re gluten free. If that’s the case for you – just substitute with a teaspoon of chilli flakes, or a tablespoon (or more) of another hot chilli sauce of your choosing.
Black vinegar is inky black, with a complex woody, malty, smoky flavour. It’s typically made from rice, but check the label if you’re gluten free as it can sometimes contain wheat. It’s strong stuff by itself, but it’s a wonderful ingredient in sauces like this one, or in dipping sauces for wontons or dumplings. It definitely floats my boat in terms of that whole rich but sharp flavour profile. If you can’t get it, you could substitute malt vinegar or balsamic vinegar – it won’t be quite the same, but the recipe will still work.
Shao hsing (or shaoxing) wine is fermented from rice and used both as a drink and in cooking. It’s one of the prettiest bottles in my pantry (in the picture at the top of this page) and I love using it in marinades and stir fries. It’s another less common but inexpensive ingredient that adds an extra something special to your home cooking.
And finally, the Szechuan peppercorns. They’ll be in the spice section, probably in a plastic bag. They look a bit like regular peppercorns, but a reddish brown colour. You can use them whole or ground in cooking. I ground them in my mortar and pestle for this recipe.