Cold Eggplant with Sesame Sauce

Liangban Qiez

Flavor: Sesame SauceMeal: Easy, Cold

“Eggplant was a common vegetable in Szechwan. Every spring our front courtyard would be turned into a nursery where my parents grew eggplant seedlings in bamboo trays to sell to our neighbors. We loved eggplant, and ate it nearly every day when it was in season. My mother knew dozens of different ways to prepare it, each one more exciting than the last.”

Eggplant naturally lends itself to a variety of treatments; its soft flesh soaks up sauces readily and its rich flavor counterbalances even the most emphatic Szechwanese spices. Only bean curd has as much versatility. This recipe for eggplant and the two that follow, are each an example of a popular Szechwanese cooking style.

Chinese eggplants are not like American ones. They are much smaller, more the size and shape of a cucumber or zucchini. American eggplants are, however, perfectly acceptable for all Mrs. Chiang’s recipes, though she notes they lack the flavor and fragrance of the ones she used to eat in Szechwan. If you ever come across the little Italian eggplants, buy them; they resemble the Oriental ones. In order to avoid overripe eggplants, which are spongy and have too many seeds, check the skin of each before you buy it. Strangely enough, if the skin is shiny and taut, the vegetable has seen better days. The skin of tender young eggplants is dull.

One of the most amusing things about this dish is the fact that it contains almost exactly the same basic ingredients as one of our favorite Middle Eastern dishes, baba ghanouj — eggplant and sesame paste. But what a difference! Instead of a smooth puree, permeated with the rich, nutlike flavor of Middle Eastern sesame paste, or tahini, this dish is a highly spiced salad composed of soft eggplant strips in an assertive sauce containing raw garlic, ginger, and hot red peppers, as well as sesame paste.

Although it rarely appears in the dishes of American Chinese restaurants, sesame paste is one of the most important and characteristic of all Szechwanese condiments. It has a much stronger taste and more powerful aroma than the Middle Eastern variety, and appears most frequently as the basic component of this type of highly spiced sauce. It is a sauce that has a remarkable affinity for cold foods, and some of the most famous Szechwanese cold dishes rely on it. This eggplant dish is one of them. Warn your friends before you serve it to them; the hot peppers and raw garlic form a powerful combination.

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Method

Preparation

1 large eggplant Cut the eggplant into about 6 large pieces; you do not have to peel it.
1-inch piece fresh ginger Peel the ginger, then chop it coarsely. Put it in a small, steep-sided bowl or a mortar.

5 cloves garlic

teaspoon salt

Smash the garlic cloves with the flat side of your cleaver, then peel. Chop the garlic coarsely, too. Add the chopped garlic to the ginger, along with the salt, and, using the handle of your cleaver, a wooden spoon, or a pestle, mash them all together until they become a sticky paste. (The salt aids in the process of pulverizing the other ingredients and helps to bring out their flavor as well.)
1 scallion Clean the scallion, then chop it, both green part and white, into pieces about the size of a match head.

Cooking

(eggplant)

1 to 2 quarts water, approximately

Put the eggplant pieces in a saucepan and pour in enough water to cover them. Bring the water to a boil, then cover the pan and let the eggplant cook gently until it becomes soft; this may take anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes.

Drain the eggplant thoroughly, then put it in the refrigerator to chill.

(mashed garlic and ginger)

(scallion)

1 tablespoon sesame paste

1 teaspoon sesame oil

½ teaspoon granulated sugar

2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar

1-½ tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes in oil

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground roasted Szechwan peppercorns

When the eggplant is cold, slice it into strips about ½ inch wide. Put the strips in a serving dish and add the mashed garlic and ginger, the scallion, sesame paste, sesame oil, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, hot pepper flakes in oil, salt, and ground roasted Szechwan peppercorns. Mix everything very thoroughly and serve.

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