Why This Recipe Works
- Par-cooking the eggplant by steaming (over simmering water or in the microwave) gets them to cook more evenly and speeds up the whole process.
- A few tablespoons of chopped-up preserved mustard root gives the dish another textural component.
- Adding cubes of firm silken tofu transforms this dish into a one-pot meal.
Woks are generally associated with super high heat, rapid cooking, and smoking hot oil, but there are other, gentler methods of cooking in one. Braising (or simmering) in a wok is about the simplest thing you can do with it. It doesn't require the crazy high heat you need for stir-frying (at least, no much of it) and it doesn't require mad flipping skills. In fact, it doesn't even require a lot of time, particularly when working with a tender vegetable like eggplant.
Wok-simmering is my go-to method for cooking eggplant. I like how the spongy flesh absorbs sauce and gets a tender, lightly chewy texture almost like soft braised meat. Many folks like to purge their eggplants by salting them and letting them rest before cooking them. I don't bother with this step, particularly not when using Chinese or Japanese eggplants, which basically have no bitterness whatsoever and thus don't need to be purged (even modern cultivars of globe eggplants have very little bitterness).
What I do do to them is par-cook them either by steaming in a bamboo steamer set over my wok, or (as is more frequently the case these days), by microwaving them until completely softened. Par-cooking not only gets them to cook more evenly, but it also speeds up the whole process. Rather than having to simmer for half an hour in the sauce until tender, with par-cooked eggplant the whole thing comes together in just a few minutes (even counting the 10 to 15 minutes it takes to par-cook, you're well in the green). This means less time standing and stirring, less time waiting for dinner, and more time to move on to bigger and better concerns like what you're going to be eating the next day.
Braised eggplant with garlic sauce is a classic Sichuan dish that combines soft simmered eggplant, fermented soybeans, and a sweet, garlicky sauce. For this version, I like to add a few tablespoons of chopped-up preserved mustard root (you can find this canned or jarred in any good Chinese market—if not, you can omit it. Its role is largely textural) 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.
The sauce is a simple mix of Chinese wine, soy sauce, sugar, and fermented soybean paste (also available in Asian markets). You can go with 100% eggplant if you'd like, but I like to add cubes of firm silken tofu (my tofu of choice for braising) to transform this into a one-pot meal.
Braised Eggplant With Tofu in Garlic Sauce Recipe
This vegan Sichuan dish combines soft simmered eggplant, tofu, fermented soy beans, and a sweet, garlicky sauce.
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 cornstarch
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon fermented broad bean chile 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, chile 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, bamboo steamer insert (or microwave, see note), wok spatula
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 market, 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).
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 18g||24%|
|Saturated Fat 2g||11%|
|Total Carbohydrate 31g||11%|
|Dietary Fiber 7g||25%|
|Total Sugars 14g|
|Vitamin C 7mg||36%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|