Winning points with a Chinese-style eggplant dish

In Melbourne at the moment, the Australian Open (tennis) is in full swing and, as it nears the finals, is on television lots. At the same time, it’s pretty hot; today was 37C, so its difficult to find motivation to do much, plus there’s the sunburn factor (i.e. too hot not to get burnt). By the time we got home from work/childcare, it had really heated up and all I wanted to do was watch the tennis with the kids (my 4 year old now tells me he wants to be a tennis player when he grows up!).

But, you know, I had to feed them something. It had to be quick, easy and nutritious. What to do? I toyed with the idea of making a Cambodian-esque dish, given that we were there in November and it was almost as hot as Phnom Penh, but decided that was beyond me today. In the end, I settled for a Chinese eggplant and mince dish that my friend Teresa taught me a few years ago; before then, I’d always imagined that it was hugely complex and would take all day to prepare. Fortunately that’s not the case. I like to think of it as interchangeable with spaghetti bolognese – one of those fail-safe dishes that everyone in the family will eat. As long as you have stuff in the cupboard (once you’ve made it once, you will have enough for many incarnations), it’s really pretty basic. The kids really love it and so does my partner, so its a winner with everyone. While its a pork dish, any mince meat (although not sure about lamb) can be substituted; we had chicken today. Tempeh might also work well too, but I haven’t tried it.

Szechuan-style eggplant and minced pork

You’ll need:

oil (most recipes call for peanut oil, but I use olive or vegetable oil with no problems)

1 medium eggplant (aubergine)

2 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped finely

2 tsp ginger, grated finely

a good handful of mushrooms (shitake if you like them, I just use button or swiss brown)

500g minced pork (or chicken or beef)

a handful of green or snake beans, cut into 3 cm lengths (optional)

1 tsp chilli bean paste or chilli flakes (optional – I don’t generally include this)

250ml chicken or vegetable stock

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp Shao Xing Chinese cooking wine (or dry sherry)

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp sugar

pepper and salt, to taste

4-6 spring onions, chopped into 3 cm lengths (depends how much you like them!)

1. Chop eggplant into thin strips, about the size of your little finger and ~3cm long. Place in a colander and salt them liberally. Leave for about 15 minutes.

2. Wash salt from eggplant then pat dry. In a frypan, heat a few tablespoons of oil (you may need to add more, as eggplants are pretty thirsty). When it’s hot, add your eggplant; you may need to do this in two batches in order to cook the eggplant well. Cook it until it’s soft and transparent. Set aside to drain on some paper towel. Discard any oil left in your frypan.

3. Return your frypan to the heat and add a tablespoon or two of oil. Add ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant. Stir in the mushrooms and cook until they are soft, for a minute or two. Next add the mince and, if you are using them, beans and chilli bean paste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mince changes colour and is cooked through.

4. Stir in the stock, soy sauce, Shao Xing wine, sesame oil and eggplants and cook for about 5 minutes or until the flavours have been absorbed by the meat and vegetables. It might still have a watery sauce, which you can thicken by adding 1 tsp cornflour mixed with 2 tbsp water (optional; I never bother to do this). Stir through your spring onions and cook for a further minute or so.

5. Serve with steamed rice.

If you like this sort of thing, don’t hesitate to buy that big bottle of Shao Xing – it lasts for ages and is not expensive. You can get it at most Asian grocers.

I hope you and yours like this dish – if you have a better recipe, I’d love to hear it! Thanks for reading.

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