As much as I love eating out in Beijing and discovering new and exciting eateries, the produce at the market is almost as equally enticing, calling me to cook something with it. The eggplants are long and thin, shiny dark purple, a huge array of Chinese greens that I wouldn’t know where to begin with names, and so many variations of mushrooms and fungus – long enoki-types, squishy black and white fungus, button, dried shiitake. So I decided to cook Chinese for some friends last night. I also do love cooking for others, and miss doing that now I’ve been in China. I’m not sure if it’s so “Chinese” to have people over for a dinner party, but oh well. It was a nice excuse to sit at my table and light the candles!
I took inspiration from Kylie Kwong’s My China cookbook, which I don’t have with me, but was able to find on the biggest cookbook (the web), and another Chinese eggplant recipe which I changed around a little as well.
I’m a big fan of Kylie Kwong, and cook a lot from her Simple Chinese Cooking cookbook at home. One of my favourite recipes, and definite crowd pleaser is the deep fried silky tofu with Sichuan pepper and lemon. The crispyness of the tofu skin mixed with the silky, sloppy texture inside makes it a divine dish. But I didn’t cook that last night.
I LOVE love love lotus root. As well as having a beautiful crunchy texture, I usually can’t help exclaim out loud at the table how gorgeous the vegetable is to look at as well. How can something that grows underground look this good? After a tiny mixup at the vegetable stand (they thought I wanted some other type of vegetable – I think it was a yam), I got some lotus roots. I peeled them, sliced them and put them to soak in some water with a little vinegar, as I’d heard they discolour pretty quickly if left for too long before cooking.
Kylie Kwong’s caramelised lotus root
Ingredients (serves 4-6)
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 bulb garlic unpeeled and cut in half crossways
2 garlic cloves finely sliced
5 cm piece of ginger finely sliced
550 g fresh lotus root peeled and cut into 5mm slices
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons shao hsing wine
1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
Heat oil in a hot wok until surface seems to shimmer slightly. Add garlic, cut-side down, and sear over medium heat for 1 minute. Add sliced garlic and ginger and lotus root and stir-fry for 3 minutes. Add sugar and stir-fry for 2 minutes or until slightly caramelised.
Add shao hsing wine and stir-fry for 1 minute. Lastly, add vinegar and soy sauce and stir-fry for a further minute. Serve immediately, garnished with chilli and coriander if desired.
The whole bulb of garlic used for searing isn’t meant to be eaten, but it adds a gorgeous infusion of garlic into the oil and the entire dish.
To go with this dish, I made an eggplant, green bean and cherry tomato stir fry as well. It would have been nice spicier as well but my friend doesn’t like too spicy so I toned it down. I was inspired by a recipe from The Age newspaper, which I used the base ingredients, then added my own things to. I don’t salt my eggplants either – maybe I should, but I’ve found these eggplants so fresh and not at all bitter.
Eggplant, green bean and cherry tomato stir fry
Ingredients (serves 4)
3 eggplants (I use the long Chinese ones)
2 garlic cloves
1 knob ginger, peeled
8 spring onions
peanut oil for shallow frying
2 tbsp chilli bean paste
4 tbsp soy sauce
5 tbsp shao hsing rice wine
1 tsp sesame oil
4 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup water
10 long beans chopped into 5 cm pieces
6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
Slice eggplants into short, thin strips.
Back home I’d use a mortar and pestle to crush garlic, ginger and four spring onions to a paste. Here I use my trusty cleaver, and have to deal with slightly chunkier pieces. Slice the other spring onions into 5cm lengths. Set aside.
Heat a wok with a cup of oil and when hot, fry the eggplants until golden brown – it’s best to do this in two batches. Remove with a slotted spoon to drain on kitchen paper and discard oil.
Heat the wok with a few tablespoons of fresh oil and add the garlic paste. At this point, if you’re not a vegetarian, you could add 300gm pork mince. Stir-fry for 5 minutes on high until the pork is cooked, then add all the remaining ingredients, including the sliced spring onions. Cook for a few minutes until they have softened and the flavours have melded together.
Stir in the eggplant, check the seasoning (if a little salty add more water) and serve.
I served these dishes with rice cooked in my pressure cooker, which I must admit was my fail for the night. I’ve only used rice cookers before and got my quantities wrong…so gluggy rice. Not so yum! But the pressure cooker is fabulous, and I also was able to cook a bread and butter pudding in it, so I’ll continue using it, but just experiment with different ratios of water to rice. Once I work that out I’ll be able to cook jasmine rice in six minutes!
I also served a bowl of peanuts still in the shell – an interesting and mysterious packet which says they are salted…but still in the shell. I’m loving the peanuts over here. A dinner of all textures – crunch and caramel of the lotus root, sloppy and silky eggplant and nutty peanuts. Oh, and a little gluggy from the rice!