Sunday, December 16, 2012

Steamed Eggplants with Chile Sauce (Hong You Qie Zi)

When work starts to get busy for me, it becomes a game to figure out exactly what produce we can buy from the farmers' market (or at the grocery store) that won't go bad before we have a chance to use it and is also fairly easy to throw together at the last minute.  Take these eggplants - we had them for over a week before we used them.  And that worked out fine.  Actually, a lot of the fall vegetables last for a fairly long time (although you can get into trouble with greens).  Part of the reason we end up eating so much cauliflower and squash in the fall/winter is because both items have a pretty good shelf life.  And with a job like mine - you need some shelf life from time to time.  I think I have finally figured out what works for us and what doesn't.  For the first year or two of work we ended up throwing away a lot of produce because we would buy it and then suddenly work would pick up.  And before we knew it, 1-2 weeks would have gone by with me eating every meal at my desk (and Alex eating peanut butter crackers at home) and we would then throw away everything in the refrigerator and start from scratch.  Things still crop up unexpectedly occasionally, but I like to think that we have learned to manage it better.

This eggplant dish was something of a last minute side dish.  It was cold and rainy out, so I wanted to make hot and sour soup (which had the added benefit of using up the rest of the leftover homemade chicken stock from the Chicken Pho (Pho Ga)).  And we had this eggplant just kind of hanging out in the fridge from our shopping trip to Chinatown so I decided to try to come up with an easy Chinese side using the eggplant.  Of course we turned to our two Fuchsia Dunlop cookbooks first and then we picked this recipe because it looked like the easiest one.  My favorite thing about the dish was the silky texture of the steamed eggplant.  And I really appreciated how easy it was.  This would be a really easy side dish to put together to round out a nice home-cooked Sichuan meal.  It's not the greatest eggplant we have ever made, but it really went perfectly with the hot and sour soup.  We ended up drizzling the dipping sauce over the eggplant (and adding some scallion greens for color and to add a bit of additional flavor).  The dipping sauce is nicely salty and spicy and the steamed eggplant just soaks it up like a sponge.  Our chili oil had peanuts in it and they provided a nice little textural contrast, but totally aren't necessary.

Recipe after the jump!

Steamed Eggplants with Chile Sauce (Hong You Qie Zi)
Land of the Plenty: Authentic Sichuan Recipes Personally Gathered in the Chinese Province of Sichuan
By Fuchsia Dunlop

2 large eggplants or an equivalent amount of slender Asian eggplants (6-8, depending on size)
3 tbsp light soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar
2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp chili oil with chile flakes
1 tsp sesame oil
1 scallion, green parts only, thinly sliced on the bias (optional)

If you are using large eggplants, trim them, cut them in half, and sprinkle the cut sides lightly with salt.  Leave for at last half an hour to draw out the bitter juices.  Asian eggplants do not need this treatment and can be left whole (our Asian eggplants were on the hefty side, so we cut them in half, but didn't salt them - we also used a few less than the recipe called for since they were on the large side).

Steam the eggplants over high heat for 5-10 minutes, until tender.  Peel them i desired.  Leave to cool and then cut into chunks (tiny Asian eggplants can simply be halved lengthwise).

Combine soy sauce, vinegar and sugar in a small bowl.  Stir to combine.  Add the oils and the scallion.

Serve eggplant with sauce.

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