Steamed Aubergines with Red Peppercorns

Chinese cooks rarely steam vegetables, preferring to either blanch them quickly in hot, lightly salted water or to stir-fry them quickly in the wok. However, aubergines do lend themselves to steaming. They are rarely baked, as most Chinese homes lack ovens, but steaming them whole and then covering them with a tasty sauce is not only easy but also a very nutritious way of enjoying aubergines. Steaming brings out the subtle taste and texture of the aubergines, which have enough robustness to stand up to an assertive sauce. Try to get the Chinese variety if you can; you will find them slightly sweeter. This is a most enjoyable vegetarian recipe.

Ingredients

  • 450 g (1 lb) Chinese or ordinary aubergines
  • tablespoons groundnut oil
  • 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
  • tablespoons finely chopped fresh root ginger
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped spring onions, white part only
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoonsugar
  • 1 tablespoonChinese black vinegar or cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Szechuan peppercorns, roasted and ground
  • 1 tablespoonsesame oil

For the Garnish

  • 2 tablespoons chopped green spring onion tops

Method

If you are using the Chinese aubergines, leave them whole. If you are using the ordinary large variety, trim and cut them in half and score them on the skin side by cutting diagonal crossways indentations.

Next, set up a steamer or put a rack into a wok or deep pan and fill it with 5-cm (2-in) of water. Bring the water to the boil over a high heat. Put the aubergines on to a heatproof plate and carefully lower it into the steamer or on to the rack. Turn the heat to low and cover the wok or pan tightly. Steam gently for 30-40 minutes or until the aubergines are very soft to the touch. Remove from the wok and keep in a warm place. Clean out the wok and wipe it dry.

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 and stir-fry for 30 seconds, then add the ginger and spring onions and continue to stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the rest of the ingredients. Turn the heat down and cook uncovered for 2 minutes and pour the sauce over the aubergines. Garnish with the chopped spring onion tops and serve at once.

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