Back Home…Spicy Eggplant

Okay, I’m back. I went to New Jersey this past week to visit my friends and my church. So I kind of abandoned this blog…kind of…but trust me when I say that I didn’t stop thinking about it, even though I didn’t update. Old friends, old feelings, old places…nostalgia and more nostalgia. I sure did miss my friends, but there were some things that I guess I had to finish, things that I didn’t even know were left unfinished. I’m so behind on posting though. I went to a couple of restaurants while I was down there, but shame on me, I didn’t have my camera with me, so not much to report back. 😦 I’ll be sure to have my camera handy next time.

And now for the spicy eggplant. You see, eggplant is one of those things, like coconut I suppose. There are extreme lovers, and extreme haters. It is one odd vegetable. Cook it a certain way and I can swear that it tastes almost like meat, with its tender, hearty texture. It also acts like a sponge. Try something, slice up some eggplant, pour some oil into a heated pan, toss the slices in, and watch the oil just disappear. Now add some more, where the heck did it all go? You can forgo the experiment and not waste food if you’d like. Just believe me. So use a light hand on the oil when you’re making this dish.

Spicy Eggplant

2 lbs eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large or 2 medium tomatoes, diced
10 Sichuan Peppercorns
3 Tbsp. oil
1 Tbsp. red chili sauce, with oil (老干妈) *I love this stuff, goes well with everything! 😀
1 Tbsp. light soy sauce
salt to taste
1/4 c. chopped cilantro

In a wok, heat the oil on medium high. Add the chili sauce, peppercorns, and fry for a few minutes, until the fragrance really gets to you (I always sneeze). Then add the garlic and eggplant. Stir fry, until the eggplant is lightly browned, although don’t worry about the coloring so much, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, soy sauce, and salt. Cook until the tomatoes break down, another 5-6 minutes. Before serving, mix in the cilantro.

Easy side dish to meatier Chinese dishes, reduce the amount of chili sauce to make a milder dish.


Following the Red-Cooked Idea…

I made red-cooked chicken for dinner? See?

I enjoyed it. Very much. Did you have a good day today? I hope you did, but if you didn’t, there’s always red-cooked chicken, and potatoes. It’s the Asian style meat and potatoes. Who said Asians were all vegetarians? We might have been in the process of evolution, but we enjoy meat as much as anyone.

Oh right. I forgot to tell you about potatoes last time I wrote about red-cooked spareribs. This is how you create tender, flavourful, melt-in-your-mouth potatoes. First, make your red-cooked meat of choice, be it chicken, pork, beef, fish, tofu…yeah, tofu is treated as meat over here. Now, after you take your meat out of the wok, add largely diced potatoes to the sticky sweet glaze remaining in the wok, along with some water. Cover it. Let the porous surface of the little cubes suck up every single little bit of flavour in that wok. Turn it every once in a while, add more water if it seems dry. Until it tastes like what I described above. Almost better than the chicken itself. Trust me. Of course, it’s completely optional, you could just dump the glaze on top of the meat, if you wished…but WHY would you do that? When you can have hot little morsels of heaven?

The method of making the chicken is similar to that of the spareribs, except we don’t simmer the meat ahead of time. Just start with the chicken patted dry. Here is how to do it. The red-cooking part that is, not the patting dry part, because I’m sure you don’t need me for that. 😀

Red-Cooked Chicken

1 whole chicken, 3-4 lbs, cut into pieces

(note: I used a whole chicken, although the hacking chicken part is definitely not enjoyable. I like having the different parts of the chicken to serve, both dark meat and white meat. It made for a good variation. I love chicken necks, did I tell you that? You might go eww….but it’s surprisingly tasty even though it doesn’t have much meat. It’s okay to look at your computer screen funnily, I’m just quirky like that. But that aside, if you don’t want to go to the hassle of dissecting the bird, you’re very welcome to use thigns or legs, or both. I advise against just breast meat however, at least use a combination of white and dark meat, as white meat simply doesn’t have much flavour.)

3 Tbsp. oil
1/4 cup sugar
3 green onions, chopped, plus more for garnish
5 slices of ginger, minced
5 cloves of garlic, minced
15 Sichuan peppercorns, approximately
4 star anises, broken into parts
3 Tbsp. light soy sauce
2 Tbsp. dark soy sauce
2 Tbsp. Chinese rice wine
Sesame oil to drizzle over the dish (optional)

Heat up the oil on medium high in a wok. Add the sugar and let it caramelize into a light amber color. Add the chicken. Make sure that it is patted dry to minimize spattering. Add the green onions, ginger, garlic, peppercorns, and anise. Toss to coat. Add the soy sauces and rice wine. Toss again, making sure the color is well distributed amongst the pieces. Cover tightly and reduce the heat to medium low. Let simmer for 30-40 minutes, turning every 10 minutes or so, or until the chicken is tender and deep red in color. If you need to add extra water, do so, but only if the wok seems dry. You shouldn’t need it because the chicken releases plenty of liquid on its own, which will reduce to a syrupy glaze.

At this point, you can scrape out the chicken onto a serving platter, drizzle with sesame oil and sprinkle with green onions. Add the cubed potatoes to the remaining glaze in the wok, if you wish, and I don’t see why you wouldn’t wish that :), plus some water, cover and let cook. Stir occasionally until it’s meltingly tender, and all the glaze has been absorbed.

What are you waiting for? Dig in!!!

You can sort of see the potatoes in the corner there. Not really. So I guess you should try to make your own to see what I’m talking about. I also made Spicy Eggplant as an accompaniment. It was fiery and very satisfying. Recipe for another day. 😀

Red-Cooked Spareribs 紅燒排骨

Personally, I like red-cooked anything. What is that, you ask? Well, it’s a sweet, spice-infused way of Chinese cooking. Typically this is done with pork belly, or any other cut with some fat attached or can otherwise be tough and fibrous to cook with a quick, searing heat. Therefore we braise. We braise until the meat is fall off the bone tender, if there are bones involved, glistening with sauce, and deep red in hue. Which translates into all around yumminess. 😀 Now, you can red-cook a lot of things, such as ribs, as I’ve done here, chicken drums are especially good as well, tough cuts of beef, duck, tofu, or even eggplant.

I employ a method that I like when it comes to cooking ribs, the same method that I used with the sweet and sour ribs I posted about before, and that is simmering the ribs until pretty tender, and adding about a cup or so of cooking liquid to the sauce. This ups the meaty taste. My ribs did not turn out as red as I would’ve liked because I didn’t have dark soy sauce on hand. It’s different than most standard soy sauces that you come across in that it has a deeper flavour and most importantly, a deeper colour. Try to find it if you can, most Asian food stores carry it.

Red-Cooked Spareribs (紅燒排骨 Hong Shao Pai Gu)

2 lbs spareribs, cut into individual ribs and in half crosswise, if you could
2 green onions, cut into 1/2 inch segments
3 big slices of ginger, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp. Chinese rice wine
a couple of big pinches of salt

3 Tbsp. oil
1/4 cup sugar
10 Sichuan peppercorns
3 star anises, broken into pieces
2 green onions, cut into 1/2 inch segments
2 slices ginger, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. Chinese rice wine
2 Tbsp. light soy sauce
2 Tbsp. dark soy sauce
1 cup reserved ribs cooking liquid

Place ribs in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and skim off the yucky scum stuff floating on the top. Add the 2 chopped green onions and 3 slices of chopped ginger to the pot. Pour in the 2 Tbsp. rice wine and toss in the salt. Cover partially, reduce heat to medium low, and let simmer for at least 45 minutes or until the ribs are tender. Remove from pot and reserve a cup of cooking liquid. Drain well.

Heat up a wok or large frying pan on medium high heat, add the oil and the sugar. Stir with a spatula and heat until the sugar is liquid and turning a deeper amber hue. Add the ribs, remaining green onions, ginger, Sichuan peppercorns, star anises, and garlic. Toss well, then add the soy sauces, rice wine, and cooking liquid. Cover, and reduce heat to medium. Braise for about 20 minutes, turning the ribs occasionally, or until the sauce is thickened and coats the meat. Season with additional salt, if needed.

Enjoy! 🙂