Made in Jiānádà: Homestyle porky Eggplant (家常茄子)


Eggplant (茄子 or qiézi) was one of the first words I learned in Mandarin back in early 2009, partly because we ordered it so often that it inevitably had to stick in my head, and partly because it sounded like a hybrid between cheese and chaise (as in longue). Kind of like ch’yay’zuh.

Except not really.

If you are anything like me, your tones will be so inconceivably wrong that you could say it every day for three years and still only get it right half the time.

And I do get practice saying it. We eat spiced deep fried eggplant slices, stewed umami eggplant fingers with sizzling red and green peppers, dry fried green beans with long melty lengths of lightly spiced eggplant with just a hint of pork crumble. At home, I’ve baked it and fried it and breaded it.

When I lived in Turkey, I lived on it.

And the thing is, until a decade ago, I thought I hated eggplant. I loathed it, in fact. It was on the list of things I told people I didn’t like, alongside all sorts of fungus and organ meats.

What I failed to realize, however, was that 1. I just hated those big spongy bitter eggplants normally sold in Canada and 2. I hate big spongy chunks of poorly prepared eggplant.

Those little tiny thin Asian and Turkish purple-black eggplants, properly sauteed or baked slowly and drizzled in olive oil? Those I like.

This recipe is astonishingly easy to pull together and really quite tasty, even for those who think they hate eggplant. It’s not at all spongy and it’s not at all bitter. It tastes even better, reheated over a propane camp stove three days later, eaten plain with a spoon in little unbreakable bowls in the wilds of Vancouver Island.

This is, as the name says, simple homestyle eggplant (家常茄子 – jiācháng qiézi). This is comfort food.


The Recipe


500 gr Chinese or Japanese eggplant (equal to the 3 ones I bought)
150-200 gr ground pork (about a cup)
4 cloves garlic
3-5 dried red chilies (to taste)
3-5 Tbsp soy (to taste)
2 tsp corn starch
cooking oil
chili sauce (optional, if you like more than just the dry heat)


Note: I almost made this other one which looked really yummy but didn’t have all the ingredients. If you do, check it out. It looks lovely

I started by marinating the minced pork overnight. One teaspoon each of soy and corn starch. You could probably just do it for an hour, if pressed for time. Mince some garlic while you’re at it. I also threw together my corn starch paste (1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved into 3 table spoons of water- use your fingers if you like. Works best). You’ll need all three at hand when you prepare the eggplant.

The garlic, the marinating pork and the cornstarch paste: my Chinese mise en place

Assemble your eggplants.

I just guessed their weight at the supermarket and look- spot on!
Prepare the eggplants by chopping off their heads.
Cut the headless eggplants into little odd shaped chunks by chopping off the side at an angle and rotating it and doing it again. It’s a bit like sharpening a pencil with a pocket knife. This maximizes the open insides and minimizes the skin.
They look a bit like this.
This would be 500g of eggplant chunks.
Heat the wok until rather hot, then add 2 tablespoons of oil. You want to heat the oil to nearly smoking (but not quite).
Throw the eggplant into the hot, oiled wok and toss it around a bit to get the oil all over. Think oil wrestling.

When all the pieces are lightly coated in oil, turn the heat down to medium high. This is a real bugger to do properly when you’re on an electric stove. I brought it down to medium and it was fine. Any higher and the smoke alarm would have gone off.

After a few minutes, it’ll look like this. Stir it every so often to prevent sticking. The eggplant pieces will become softer, more translucent, and will lose their sponginess as they cook. I think mine took about 5 minutes.
This is what it looked like when I tossed it out of the wok and into a side bowl to wait for the rest of the dish.
If you like heat, adjust dried chili levels accordingly. I added about 4 super hot Thai ones.
Sautee the garlic and chilies in some new oil in the wok.
Add the marinated pork. Break it up into little chunks so it will become nice and crumbly as it cooks.
See, it’s getting nice and crumbly and mincy.
Throw the cooked eggplant back in with the crumbly pork mixture, swirl in a few blorps of soy sauce (I put in about 3 teaspoons) and any hot sauce you might be brave enough to add. I personally like the very pure Hunan chili paste. Toss in the corn starch mix at the end to thicken it all up and make it soft and shiny.
We took ours camping. It reheats very well in a cast iron fry pan over a propane camp stove. Just so you know.
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  1. Jane says:

    This looks good! I have the same problem with eggplant — I think I have only had it poorly prepared, so I just don’t like it! But, I am really trying to like it! Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. MaryAnne says:

      I do recommend giving it a shot! I’d also recommend looking up recipes in Turkish cookbooks (think Imam Bayildi– or Karniyarik – as they slowly cook eggplant until it’s lovely and soft and melty and richly savoury.

  2. mjskit says:

    What gorgeous eggplant! I use to grow it but I haven’t been able to find it here in the grocery stores. Sometimes I can find it at the growers market. Thanks for posting eggplant and pork!!! One of my favorite dishes so I can’t wait to try this! YUM!
    mjskit recently posted..Fried Catfish and Carrot Raisin Salad – Picnic @ Ray’sMy Profile

    1. MaryAnne says:

      Oh, what a pity you can’t get eggplants easily! They’re pretty common here and there are a few standard varieties that are in most supermarkets. I hope you can track some down and give this a shot. Very tasty!

  3. I love the eggplants, they look so purple. I think it is easy to find them on Asia but perhaps it’s a bit difficult in western? In my opinion, they taste almost the same like chicken meat.

  4. TracyAnn0312 says:

    It looks great. In our country we first grill the eggplant then peel, afterward we cook it in a high fire range. Thanks for sharing your own recipe. I think that I will be able to try it.
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