Braised Aubergine Casserole with Prawns

Aubergines with their vivid colour, subtly rich taste, and soft texture are such a delight to eye and palate. Their mild flavours can be nicely matched with practically any other food or seasoning. Here, in an unlikely combination, I have paired them with prawns. Their distinctive flavours at once contrast with and enhance the taste of the aubergines. This is a very traditional recipe, where the aubergine skins are left on, as we Chinese also enjoy their texture.

Ingredients

  • 450 g (1 lb) Chinese or ordinary aubergines
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 175 g (6 oz) raw prawns
  • 1½ tablespoons groundnut oil
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
  • 1½ tablespoons finely chopped fresh root ginger
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped spring onions, white part only
  • 1 tablespoondark soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoonlight soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoonchilli bean sauce
  • 1 tablespoonwhole yellow bean sauce
  • 1 tablespoonShaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoonsugar
  • 1 tablespoonChinese black vinegar or cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Szechuan peppercorns, roasted and ground
  • 300 ml (10 fl oz) Chicken Stock or water

For the Garnish

  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green spring onion tops

Method

Roll-cut the Chinese aubergines by cutting them at a slight diagonal slant, rolling them half-way round and then cut again. If you are using the large variety, trim and cut them into 2.5-cm (1-in) cubes, sprinkle them with salt (only if you are using ordinary aubergines – you do not need to salt Chinese aubergines) and leave them in a sieve to drain for 20 minutes. Then rinse them under cold running water and pat them dry with kitchen paper.

Peel the prawns and discard the shells. Using a small sharp knife, remove the fine digestive cord. Wash the prawns and pat them dry with kitchen paper. Coarsely chop them and set them aside.

Heat a wok or large frying-pan over a high heat until it is hot. Add the oil and, when it is very hot and slightly smoking, add the garlic, ginger and spring onions and stir-fry them for 30 seconds, then add the aubergines and continue to stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the prawns. Turn the heat down and cook uncovered for 10-15 minutes until the aubergine is tender, stirring occasionally.

Return the heat to high and continue to stir until the liquid has been reduced and has thickened slightly. Add the prawns and cook for another 2 minutes. Turn the mixture on to a warm serving dish and drizzle in the sesame oil, garnish with the chopped spring onion tops and serve at once.

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