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.
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
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.
Assemble your eggplants.
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.