Chicken Dinners: Sesame Chicken and Eggplant

Yvonne Ruperti

Though I have a penchant for mouth-searing Asian dishes, my stomach lining needs a break every once in a while. (I'm also aware of my carb intake with these dishes because I consume boatloads of rice when the meal is hot.) During these in-between moments, I like to eat less spicy Cantonese dishes, such as a big bowl of stir-fried sesame eggplant and chicken. Here, chunks of diced chicken and soft eggplant are bathed in a silky cornstarch-thickened sauce that's full of sesame and ginger, slightly sweet, salty, mildly tart from rice vinegar, and with just enough heat from a chili to balance everything out. A handful of toasted sesame seeds and chopped green onions livens it up.

When it comes to cooking with eggplant, I've always cringed when it came to adding the oil (I'm sure you have too). Spongy eggplant absorbs way too much of it. Luckily, I learned (at my alma mater Cook's Illustrated) a great way to prep eggplant to avoid this, and it's not just salting. It's using the microwave. I cut the eggplant into cubes and pre-cooked them in the microwave. This step evaporates moisture and shrinks air pockets in the flesh, leaving deflated pieces that soak up less oil. The eggplant then also takes less time to cook once it's on the stove. Cook's Illustrated places the eggplant on coffee filters to absorb the liquid, but since I didn't have any filters I left the eggplant out and it still worked fine.

Dicing the boneless chicken breast (boneless thighs would also be great) into small pieces lets the chicken flavor up during the quick marinade while the eggplant is in the microwave. And the small size lets it fry up fast. All in all, it's a quick and hearty weeknight meal, made even easier if you've got a rice cooker.