Braised Eggplant with Garlic Sauce is a classic Sichuan dish that combines soft simmered eggplant, fermented soy beans, and a sweet, garlicky sauce. For this version, I like to add a few tablespoons of chopped up preserved mustard root and incorporate the garlic in a couple of ways: first, by cooking whole smashed cloves in oil to infuse it with flavor (I discard the cooked whole cloves), as well as sliced thin and sauteed along with the other aromatics.
Note: Chinkiang vinegar is a black vinegar that can be found at most Asian supermarkets. Rice vinegar can be used in its place. Preserved mustard root can be found in the canned or jarred section of an Asian supermarket, sometimes labeled preserved or pickled Sichuan vegetable (check the ingredients label for mustard root). The eggplant can be par-cooked in the microwave if you don't own a bamboo steamer. To cook, line a large microwave-proof plate with paper towels. Place eggplant on top and microwave on high power until eggplant is completely tender, 5 to 8 minutes (be careful, plate will be very hot).
- 2 pounds Chinese or Japanese eggplant (about 4 small), or small Italian eggplant, cut into 2-inch chunks
- 2 teaspoons Chinkiang vinegar (see note)
- 3/4 cup Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon fermented broad bean chili paste
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 whole cloves garlic, smashed with the back of a knife, plus 4 more whole cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 2 scallions, whites and greens thinly sliced and reserved separately
- 2 to 3 tablespoons finely minced preserved mustard root (see note)
- 1 (12.3 ounce) box firm silken tofu, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 2 to 3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Place eggplant in a large bamboo steamer and set over a wok filled with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer, cover steamer, and cook until eggplant is completely tender, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
While eggplant is cooking, make the sauce. Combine vinegar, wine, and cornstarch and stir with fork until cornstarch is dissolved. Add soy sauce, brown sugar, chili paste, and sesame oil. Set aside.
Wipe out wok and dry carefully. Add oil and whole garlic cloves. Heat over medium heat stirring and turning garlic cloves occasionally until light golden brown and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Discard whole cloves then increase heat to high and heat oil until smoking. Add sliced garlic, scallion whites, and preserved mustard root. Cook, stirring and tossing constantly until fragrant and just beginning to brown, about 1 minute. Stir sauce to re-incorporate corn starch, then add to wok, stirring constantly. Add eggplant and tofu and fold gently to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, folding and stirring occasionally until thick and glossy, about 5 minutes longer. Stir in scallion greens and cilantro and serve immediately with white rice, if desired.
Large wok plus bamboo steamer insert (or microwave, see note)