Garlic Braised Eggplant

A well-loved dish from North China. Soft and tender eggplant pieces packed with umami and full of garlic fragrance. Like many North Chinese dishes, it’s a prime example of how the most simple ingredients can transform into something amazing in the right hands.

Eggplant is not an easy plant to prepare. Bland and somewhat ‘slimy’ on it’s own, it needs a good amount of seasoning to flavour it fully, and oil to tenderise it. This dish can easily burn, practise is required to control heat and timing. Don’t worry if you don’t get it perfect the first time.

This recipe is from my mother, although I can’t make it as good as her, I think it’s good enough to share!

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Since ingredients are simple, more care is needed in choosing and preparing ingredients. Choose eggplants that are smooth, shiny, long and slender. Cut them to bite sized so each piece can be fully infused with fragrance. I realised the thicker the eggplant, the larger the seeds. Crush the garlic first to release a stronger flavour. Use a neutral flavoured oil with quality soy sauce. A good soy sauce should only have 4 ingredients: soybeans, wheat, salt and water.


GARLIC EGGPLANT RECIPE

  • 2 medium sized eggplant, chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed and roughly chopped
  • 1.5 tbsp oil (to use less oil, refer to notes)
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce

1. Heat oil in a wok over medium heat. Add garlic, fry till fragrant and lightly browned. Take note not to burn it.
2. Add eggplant and soy sauce. Flip and stir for 10 seconds till eggplant is evenly coated with oil.
3. Lower the heat and cover the wok, letting eggplant simmer for 20 seconds. Then remove the cover and stir contents for 5 seconds. This is to prevent burning during braising. Repeat this step 4 more times. Keep an eye on the liquid level, take care not to burn it.
4. When most liquid is absorbed and eggplant is soft, turn off the heat and serve.


 

Notes:
1. To use less oil, replace 0.5 tbsp oil with 1/4 cup of stock. Mix the soy sauce and stock together then add at step 2. You can use even less oil with a non stick pan. Usually less oil can lighten the taste a lot, so you may need to find other ways to compensate.
2. If your eggplant is starting to stick to your pan, stir it quickly or add stock/water one tbsp at a time. Do not add too much water as it will dilute the flavours.
3. Garlic can’t be replaced in this dish without changing the flavour. If you cannot take garlic, replace it with 1 tbsp sugar and 1.5 tbsp Chinese vinegar. Sweet and sour eggplant (糖醋茄子) is also a classic Northern dish that is incredibly delicious.

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To complete this Northern Chinese style meal, I had it with a type bread called wo wo tou. It’s a steamed corn bread with a hole in the middle that you can stuff with savoury foods. Perfect way to soak up the extra sauce.DSC02353

Black rice noodles cold dish

A Chinese recipe will be appropriate for the coming Lunar New Year, as this refreshing and umami-rich dish will be a healthy addition to reunion meals. When we think of Chinese cuisine we will automatically think of stir fries, rice and soups served piping hot. There is a class of Chinese dishes known as cold dishes or liangban cai (凉拌菜, literally “cold tossed dish”) from Northern China that defies this perception.

Cold dishes are similar to Western salads only in the sense that they are served slightly chilled or at room temperature, but never cold (unlike the name). Otherwise, they are often not fully raw for the sake of taste (eg, green leafies are always blanched) and the dressings are much simpler – usually just soy sauce, plant oils and Chinese vinegar. No dairy is used and thus they are often vegan unless meat or seafood is a main ingredient. If a cold dish is eaten as a meal, it will definitely contain carbohydrates in the form of various noodles (we think that a meal is not a meal without carbs!). They are easy to make, some even require no cooking at all. Thanks to the non-dairy, savoury-sour sauces, they can keep well and thus are a good make-ahead food prep and lunch box meal!

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Recipe (makes 2 servings)

Main ingredients:

2 servings of black rice noodles, cooked to package instructions (You can use almost any noodles you prefer, I got them from Yes Natural store.)

Half medium-sized carrots, shredded or julienned (use the largest holes of a grater or a julienne peeler, or simply use a knife.)

Half a medium-sized young cucumber, shredded or julienned.

Half cup of mung bean sprouts

Half a pack of baiye tofu, cut into strips and roughly peel the layers apart (don’t worry about peeling them perfectly as they will come apart during cooking).

Sauce:

1.5 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp Chinese vinegar

0.5 tbsp sesame oil

1 chilli padi, chopped

Garnishes:

Spring onion, chopped (optional if abstaining from pungent roots)

Coriander leaves

Chopped chilli

Mix all dressing ingredients in a small bowl and let it sit for 5 minutes. Cook mung bean sprouts in a sieve in boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove and immerse in cold or tap water to cool it down. Cook baiye tofu in boiling water for 1 minute. Remove and immerse in cool water. Drain excess water from both by letting them sit in the sieve over a bowl for a minute. Combine all main ingredients with sauce together in a large bowl and mix well, adding more sauces to taste if preferred. If you do not prefer too spicy flavours, remove chilli padi before adding the dressing. Lastly, garnish and serve.

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Notes:

  • A large sieve and julienne peeler will make preparation much easier, both can be bought cheaply at provision shops or supermarkets.
  • The traditional cold noodles use chilli oil which is not that available in Singapore, I used chilli padi to infuse the sauce for spiciness. If no spice is preferred, simply omit it. If you have no chilli padi but still want a merciless spiciness, use Tabasco, vegan sambal, sriracha or any chilli sauce available in your country.
  • If you want a 100% gluten-free version, use tamari, coconut aminos and bragg’s instead of soy sauce. Replace Chinese vinegar with lime/lemon juice, rice vinegar, balsamic vinegar or apple cider, and mix dried ready-to-eat seaweed into the sauce for extra umami – it will taste different, but still should be good!
  • For an oil-free version, use 1 tsp tahini instead of sesame oil.
  • For a soy-free version, use coconut aminos instead of soy sauce. Instead of tofu, use large, thick-skinned cooked legumes like navy beans, kidney beans, sweet peas as protein for a complete meal. Although using beans in cold dishes isn’t quite traditional, it should still be tasty when mixed with a good sauce 🙂
  • Unlike Western salads where the dressing should be added only before serving, generally for Chinese cold dishes, the longer it sits with its sauce, the tastier it will be. Only exception is for leafy green veggies. They should not be mixed in too early as the acid from the vinegar will turn them yellow.
  • Almost every type of noodles can be used. Udon, soba, tung hoon, sweet potato noodles and wheat noodles will all work great in this recipe. But I don’t advice using rice noodles, instant or quick-cook wheat noodles, they are very absorbent and might turn soggy after sitting in the sauce for a while.
  • Other traditional cold dish sauces can include wasabi, Szechuan peppercorn oil, fermented bean pastes and minced raw garlic or ginger. Feel free to experiment to your taste!

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Here’s wishing everyone a prosperous and happy Year of the Rooster 🙂 Thanks for reading, have a good holiday and reunion for all those who celebrate!