Ever since I moved to my Harlem apartment, I had to keep myself from buying any more new cookbooks. It was hard enough to pare down my copies when I moved in, so I’m trying not to accumulate any more new stuff. I mostly borrow from the New York Public Library now just to get my fill of touching the cover and feeling the pages of a newly-published book, but when it comes to Fuchsia Dunlop, I make an exception.
Her books were my reference when I began my Sichuan kick a few years ago. Nothing out there compared to her work, living in the Sichuan Province and learning from the area’s cooking schools and the local chefs. I lived vicariously through her and her cooking.
From her latest, Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking, I ended up adapting her eggplant dish, or rou mo qie zi, from Hangzhou. I found myself in Flushing, Queens with my friend Josh over the weekend and bought some eggplants on the cheap. I didn’t have all of her required ingredients, so I played with what I had. Instead of ground pork, I used the minced beef I had in my freezer. She also required a sweet fermented sauce but I figured a dollop of chili paste will do. I also skipped the potato flour because I simply didn’t have any and I didn’t want to substitute regular flour or cornstarch with it. I have two kinds of cooking wines in my pantry so I used both just to have something else to splash in.
Feel free to eliminate the beef if you don’t want meat in this dish.
4 Asian eggplants
1 lb ground beef
1 1/2 tbsps Sichuanese chili paste
1 small knob ginger, peeled, thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, minced
a splash of chicken stock
2 tsps sugar
a jigger of Shaoxing wine, or Chinese cooking wine
a jigger of mirin, or sweet rice wine
3 stalks scallions, finely chopped
1. Cut the eggplant lengthways into three thick slices, then cut these into thin and even slices. Sprinkle them with salt, mix well and leave in a colander for at least 30 minutes to drain. Discard the water when ready to cook.
2. In a wok or a deep skillet, heat the oil for deep-frying. Add the eggplant in batches and deep-fry for three to four minutes until slightly golden on the outside and soft and buttery within. Remove and drain on paper towels.
3. In the same wok on medium flame, cook the ground beef until golden brown. Feel free to add more oil so it won’t burn. Add the chili paste and stir-fry until the oil is red and fragrant, then add the ginger and garlic and continue to stir-fry until you can smell their aromas. Add the stock and sugar and mix well.
4. Add the fried eggplant to the sauce and let them simmer gently for a minute or so to absorb some of the flavors. Splash the vinegar in and add the scallions and stir a few times. Serve with a bowl of hot, steaming white rice.
Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking by Fuchsia Dunlop