Tribulations of a Timid Taiwanese Trainee-Chef – Episode 11
Eggplant is one of those foods that can be very divisive. Some people absolutely hate it and some people love it… for me, my first appreciation for eggplant came when I realized how great of a vessel it was for shoveling savory sauce onto my rice. As long as it was mushy and very sauce-y, I could ignore the taste of the eggplant. Then I had an eggplant parm in New York (sadly I can’t remember where, but I remember I went without even knowing what an eggplant parm was) and it was amazing! Like it was supposed to be a chicken parm but it was vegetarian!
My preferred form of eggplant is still covered in sauce, though – savory, garlicky sauce for 魚香茄子 (yu xiang qie zi). (A side note, I definitely used to think that the “魚香” part was what the word for basil was, but now am remembering that basil is actually “九層塔” (jiu ceng ta) so I guess technically this is a basil garlic eggplant recipe and not just basil eggplant). Preferably spicy, like at Thai Basil (a staple of college cuisine). I actually attempted this recipe earlier this year but sadly burnt my eggplant. I choose to blame my not-so-great wok for that, since that not-so-great wok already had charred bits on the bottom before I even put in my eggplant. This time, though, we boiled the eggplant first, which unfortunately removed the pretty purple color but definitely avoided any burning.
I have to admit this month’s cooking experiment was very last minute and we had to grab the last two long eggplants at Whole Foods. So they are a little sad looking, but did their job fine. We also couldn’t find any thai basil, so had to just use regular basil, but in the future I will be better prepared and also not go to Whole Foods.
First into the pan was the garlic, mushrooms, and green onions, followed by the pork (I guess ground pork would also work). To make the sauce I just poured in soy sauce and bean paste to taste. I wish that it had become more sauce-y, and I think that if we had put in more soy sauce and some sort of thickening agent that might have helped.
We didn’t add in the eggplant and basil until the very end, and mushed it up a little bit more to get the sauce into the soft part of the eggplant. I love how bright green the basil looks and it smelled so good! Of course once it cooked it shriveled up but I understand why on the Great British Bake-off they said the key was to add fresh basil at the very end for margherita pizzas.
The dish was a smashing success if I do say so myself, judging by the empty dish by the end of dinner!