Sichuan-Style Braised Eggplant

by smokinchestnut

I love eggplant. Stuffed, layered, sautéed — you name it, I’ll eat it. Except raw. That was one eggplant (Parmesan) disaster from my early years that I hope to never repeat. Using Asian eggplant in a recipe was a first for me and — yum — it won’t be my last. They’re a slender, milder variety of eggplant without as many seeds.

This recipe has been staring me down (literally, from my cookbook stand) every day since… forever. I would walk by and drool at the closeup photo of the seared, browned eggplant and bits of ground pork, all soaking up what seemed to be a spectacular-sounding sauce. Then I finally made it and it met every single one of my expectations from days of staring at the recipe.

And the sauce. I cannot describe to you how great this sauce is so I’ll settle with pleading that you find the chile bean paste (in the Asian section of any regular grocery store) and not omit it from the recipe. Feel free to bump up the sauce (I did) from the measurements below.

So go. Go and make this. Unless you hate eggplant, then I’ll settle with crying for the loss in your life.

Sichuan-Style Braised Eggplant
minimally adapted from Williams-Sonoma Cookbook
serves 4-6

1 1/2 lb Asian eggplants
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp canola or peanut oil, or as needed
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 tbsp chile bean paste (also called “hot bean paste” or “Sichuan chile sauce”)
1 tbsp black vinegar (I used balsamic)
2 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
1 tsp tomato paste
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp cornstarch (add a little water to make a slurry)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1/4 cup celery, minced
1 tsp grated fresh or prepared horseradish
1/2 lb ground pork
2 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced on the diagonal
hot rice

Cut each eggplant on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces. Place eggplant pieces in large bowl, add cold water to submerge and stir in salt. Weight the eggplants with a plate and keep them submerged for 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry with paper towels.

Heat 2 tbsp of canola oil in a wok or large saute pan over high heat until very hot. Working in batches, add eggplant to cover bottom of pan in a single layer and saute until crisp and brown on all sides (roughly 7-10 minutes). Remove pieces using slotted spoon and transfer to another bowl. Repeat with remaining eggplant, adding more oil if necessary. Set pan aside but do not rinse.

In another bowl, make sauce by stirring together stock, chile bean paste, vinegar, soy sauce, tomato paste, sesame oil, sugar and cornstarch. Set aside.

Return pan to high heat, add 1 tbsp oil, stir in garlic, ginger, celery and horseradish. Saute until golden brown (roughly 2 minutes). Stir in pork and stir-fry until meat turns opaque (roughly 5-7 minutes).

Add sauce to pan and bring to a boil. Stir in eggplant, reduce heat to low, cover, and braise eggplant until tender, (roughly 7-10 minutes). Uncover and simmer for a few minutes to thicken sauce. Place eggplant and sauce over hot rice and garnish with green onions. Feel free to smack your lips when devouring this dish.