Shantung Cold Eggplant with Sesame Sauce

涼拌茄子

For a quick, simple, and economical dish, you can not beat this common northern Chinese pairing of slippery cool eggplant and rich sesame sauce. It is especially good in summertime, when eggplants are plentiful and the urge to cook and chew is at low ebb.

  • The long, slender variety of eggplant sold in Chinese and Japanese markets is superior in this dish. The skin is tender, the flesh is sweet, and there are few seeds. If you cannot find it, choose small, firm, unblemished eggplant that feels heavy in your hand.
  • You may cut the eggplant into chunks for serving, shred it into long, thin strips with a sharp knife or by hand, or purée it in the food processor. All three consistencies are traditional. I prefer the knife-cut strips with their slippery texture like “eggplant spaghetti.”
  • The eggplant and sauce may be prepared days in advance, and the dish assembled within minutes.

Read more

Ingredients

  • pounds firm eggplant, slender Chinese or Japanese variety best
  • 5–6 tablespoons Orchid’s Spicy Sesame Sauce
  • 3–4 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves, or tender, young celery leaves, left whole or coarsely or finely chopped

Method

Baking the eggplant

Pull off the leaves, then wash the eggplant and prick in several spots with the tines of a fork to release steam during baking. Bake in a heatproof dish in a preheated 450° oven until fork-tender, about 20–35 minutes depending on size. Turn the eggplant over midway through baking for even cooking and less liquid.

Remove from the oven, then immediately cut off the stem ends and slit the eggplant in half lengthwise to release the steam. Cut large eggplant lengthwise once or twice again, to yield long wedges about 1 inch wide. Chill cut side up, uncovered to allow the heat to escape, in the refrigerator until cold. Once cool, proceed to assemble the dish or seal the eggplant airtight and refrigerate up to 2 days.

Cutting and saucing the eggplant

Peel Western eggplant entirely. Remove most of the peel from Asian eggplant, leaving on a bit for color if it clings.

For a chunky or shredded dish, cut the eggplant into ¾ inch cubes or shred by hand or with a sharp knife into long, thin strips. Place in a shallow bowl, top with a thick ribbon of sesame sauce, then garnish with the coriander or celery leaves to taste. Serve immediately after saucing and toss at the table. Have a bowl of sauce available for those who will want more.

To purée, cut the eggplant into chunks and add to the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife. Process until coarsely chopped, add the sauce, then process until nubbly or completely smooth, as desired. Taste, and add more sauce if the flavor of the eggplant requires it. Mound in a serving bowl and garnish with the chopped coriander or celery leaves just before serving. Serve immediately or, for fuller flavor, seal airtight and refrigerate 1–2 days. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled, alone, with unsalted crackers, or with wedges of Pan-Fried Scallion Bread or toasted pita bread.

Leftovers keep several days, sealed and refrigerated.

,