March 16, 2014

Hot, Sweet, & Sour Eggplant

This is fantastic hot or room-temperature, and just as good the next day. I use bulbous dark purple eggplants, as those are the ones available to me, but you could also use the longer, light purple Chinese varieties.

The combination of vinegar, soy sauce, honey, and sambal oelek give it that classic hot, sour, salty, sweet harmony of flavours that make you want to eat the whole pan at once. The texture of the eggplant becomes meltingly soft, just firm enough to maintain its shape, and is a nice counterpoint to a classic stir fry. If you like, thinly slice some garlic and add it along with the chiles.

Hot, Sweet, & Sour Eggplant
Serves 2 - 3

225 grams eggplant
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or black vinegar
1 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon sambal oelek (or other hot chile paste)
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger or 1 tablespoon finely minced peeled, fresh ginger
1 - 2 long red chiles, seeded
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon coarse salt
5 tablespoons peanut oil, divided

Slice the eggplant lengthwise into quarters, and then slice the quarters crosswise to make triangular-ish slices that are about 1/2 centimetre wide. Sprinkle the eggplant slices with coarse salt, and set in a colander over a plate for at least half an hour. Rinse the salt off thoroughly, and drain well. Pat dry to remove any remaining water from the surface of the pieces.

Finely slice the chiles, into either rings or strips, as you prefer.

Combine the soy sauce, vinegar, honey, sambal oelek, cornstarch, and ginger in a small bowl, and stir until smooth (or at least as smooth as anything containing sambal oelek is going to be).

Working in several batches over high heat, heat the peanut oil in a skillet. Lower the heat to medium high and, working in batches, stir fry the eggplant pieces for a few minutes, until they are golden in spots but not cooked through. Remove eggplant pieces to a waiting plate as they are done, and repeat until all of the eggplant is done, and the skillet is empty. Be sure to reserve a tablespoon of oil for the sauce.

Lower the temperature to medium, and add the final tablespoon of peanut oil to the skillet. Stir the soy sauce mixture again, and add to skillet. The mixture should bubble up immediately, but if it instantly caramelizes into a solid mass, your heat is too high. In that case, add a little hot water (a couple of tablespoons - best to have it standing by, really, just in case) and stir until smooth, before proceeding. Otherwise, immediately add the sliced chiles (and garlic, if using) and quickly stir until they are coated, and then add the eggplant pieces back to the pan. Lower the heat and stir and cook until the eggplant pieces are tender, and coated with a thick, sticky glaze. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Sometimes when I make this it turns out lighter, sometimes darker, so no worries if it doesn't look exactly like this. More often, I would say it turns out a touch darker, because I often have my pan a little hotter than necessary.

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