Ming Tsai’s Northern-style Aubergine

My Chinese-American friend Ming-Hao Clayton Tsai was born in Taiwan but grew up in Dayton, Ohio. Following one very common Chinese emigrant path, his parents, who are accomplished cooks, opened a Chinese restaurant, The Mandarin Kitchen. The restaurant’s name is a marker. ‘Mandarin’ refers to the members of the nine ranks of public servants of the imperial (Beijing) bureaucracy, each member’s rank distinguishable by the particular button worn on his official cap. But Mandarin is also the standard Chinese language and a northern Chinese dialect. The word thus implies northern China and, therefore, northern cuisine.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that Ming’s parents were originally from the Beijing area and that in their restaurant they featured northern Chinese cuisine. At home, too, they emphasized the northern style of cooking. Ming would take school lunches made up of such standard northern dishes as red roast pork with potato bread. ‘Mongolian hotpots’ were a favourite during the long Ohio winters. His grandmother made Beijing sauce noodles, and they all enjoyed northern specialities such as spring onion cakes and Mongolian beef.

Here I offer a variation of one of the Ming family’s recipes for aubergine – rich, spicy and delectable. If possible, purchase the smaller, thin Chinese aubergines, which are sweeter than the ordinary purple variety; these can be found at most Chinese grocers or supermarkets.

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Ingredients

  • 450 g (1 lb) Chinese aubergines

For the Sauce

  • 2 teaspoons groundnut oil
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped spring onions
  • 2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons chilli bean sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons Chinese Chicken Stock or store-bought fresh stock
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

Method

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F, gas mark 6). Lay the aubergines on an ovenproof tray and roast them for 20 minutes, or until they are soft and cooked through. Remove from the oven and, when they are cool enough to handle, peel them and cut them into strips. Lay these on a warm platter.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over a high heat until it is hot. Swirl in the groundnut oil and, when it is hot and slightly smoking, toss in the garlic, ginger and spring onions and stir-fry for 15 seconds. Then pour in the rice wine, soy sauce, chilli bean sauce, sugar, stock and sesame oil. Bring the mixture to a simmer, pour this sauce over the aubergine and serve.

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