Thursday, May 31, 2007

Spicy Aubergine Pot

I am often seduced by the shiny blackness of aubergine, thrilled by its multitude of uses and the number of culinary frontiers it crosses effortlessly. I can buy them randomly without having a specific plan and if takes me half the week to think what to do with it it will still be fresh and edible tucked away in the vegetable drawer in the fridge. The creamy smoky flesh remains distinctive and yet is the centrepoint of dishes as diverse as the Lebanese baba ganoush or the Chinese sea spice aubergine. I wasn't always so fond - my first experience of eating this extraordinary vegetable was a badly made greek dish - slimy, oily and overwhelmingly grey it was much more mouse-acre than moussaka. Took me years to give them another go.

As a vegetable they are obviously seasonal but I was vaguely surprised to find they are grown extensively in the UK. Though they are piled high at this time of year I had thought they come from warmer climes, seeming as they do to contain edible sunshine. In fact they are not even a vegetable but rather a berry - Solanum melongena. That is the useless information for the day that may win you the £1 million. They have been cultivated in parts of Asia since forever and became known in the West after 1500.

This recipe comes from the wonderful Fuchsia Dunlop's Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. Though not very quick to make it is easy peasy and lovely to eat. The aubergine is soft and creamy, and having been salted first it takes up little of the oil, there is the sweet heat of ginger and the prickle and glow of chilli; the pork adds a salty firm chewiness like a scattering of roughness against your tongue, its inclusion in the dish as much for its texture as its flavour. That is one of the things I really love about some Asian food, the way that texture is as integral to the dish as perfume and flavour creating a more interesting and pleasurable experience.

Spicy Aubergine Pot
1 large/2 small aubergine
2 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes
75g/2 1/2 oz minced pork (I used finely diced ham as I had no pork and it was good)
2 tbspn chilli bean paste
2 tspn grated fresh ginger (I made a typo at first listing grated finger not ginger - often true!)
2 tsp finely chopped garlic
150ml chicken stock or water
1/2 tspn dark soy
2 spring onions, green parts only, finly sliced
1 tsp sesame oil
groundnut oil for deep frying

Peel the aubergines, cut them in half lengthways and then crosswise. Cut each quarter into chunks, sprinkle with salt and leave to drain for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, drain the shiitakes and squeeze dry. Finely chop them.

Rinse and pat dry the aubergines. Heat the oil for deep-frying in the wok over a high flame then fry the aubergine for a few minutes till they are tender and tinged with gold. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Do this in batches till it is all cooked.

Drain off all but 3 tablespoons of the oil and return the wok to a high flame. Add the pok (ham) and stir fry as it separates and loses its water content. Add the chilli bean paste and stir fry till the oil is red. Add the ginger, garlic, shiitakes and chilli and sizzle till they are wonderfully fragrant. Pour in the stock, add the dark soy and the cooked aubergines and simmer on a medium heat for a few minutes to allow the flavours to penetrate the aubergines. Season if necessary.

Finally, turn up the heat to reduce the sauce a little. Add the spring onions and stir-fry until barely cooked. Remove the wok from the heat, stir in the sesame oil and serve. With rice and another dish, perhaps tofu or peppers and black beans.

Very good cold for lunch next day.


Kitchen Bitch said...

This looks great - I will have to try it! I get my veg delivered and am always trying to find new ways of persuading my other half to eat aubergine.

bron said...

Made it again last night - better than gorgeous.