January 14, 2013

Aubergine Love, Part 1

For about the past decade, if you asked me what my least favorite food was, I would answer in a heartbeat, EGGPLANT (aka aubergine). After a few bad encounters with the vegetable in high school and in college, I wrote it off as a bitter and slimy mess.

Fast forward to Fall 2011. I found myself in Houston with Twin Sista and her bf at the Chinese restaurant 888 and Twin Sista insisted we order a spicy eggplant dish. I was horrified but she convinced me it was too good to pass up. MY LIFE CHANGED FOREVER.
I had no idea that eggplant could be a lil creamy (not slimy), a lil mild and completely delicious. So a year after my first encounter with good eggplant, I finally mustered up enough courage to buy some and cook it for myself.

With some steering to an authentic recipe from Twin Sista, I recreated the dish that forever changed my opinion on eggplant. Here it is: Sichuan Eggplant (aka Fish-Fragrant Eggplant but does not incorporate any fish, just traditional fish dish ingredients).
Some tips for Sichuan Eggplant: 
1. A LOT of oil is required to fry them up so I tried roasting the eggplant in the oven to cut down on some of the oil. Works both ways. Just be aware that eggplant soaks up oil very fast. If you're not careful, you can over oil and find yourself face-to-face with very oily eggplant. If you fry, you can de-oil by draining them on paper towel afterwards.

2. You can use either American eggplant or the skinnier Asian eggplant. However, Asian eggplant is less bitter. If you use American eggplant, first cut the eggplant, salt it generously and let it sit in a colander for 30 minutes to get rid of some of the bitterness. Then rinse and pat dry. 
skinny, less bitter Chinese eggplant
3. Visit your local Asian grocery for the chili-bean paste, black vinegar and Sichuan peppercorns. All necessary and all totally worth the hassle of buying them. (Click on the links to see what the packaging looks like for these ingredients).

4. If you don't have a spice grinder (like me), crush the Sichuan peppercorns by placing them in a ziploc bag, put them on a countertop and use a pot or a frying pan to crush them. (If you haven't had Sichuan peppercorns in your food before, you'll experience a numbing spiciness from your food. Be careful not to go too overboard, I learned this the hard way). 
The final result: a spicy, sweet and tasty eggplant dish. More eggplant recipes to come. 

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