Everyone needs at least one reliable and reproducible recipe for entertaining. This is mine, because it’s easy, unique, and universally pleasing. This dish can be prepared ahead of time, with ample time in the fridge to cool down. I find that eggplant can be a polarizing vegetable — some people dislike the texture, but others have no problem with it. I used to dislike eggplant until I discovered the steaming method. Eggplant is often fried with a lot of oil and ends up being too heavy for my tastes, but steamed eggplant is light and a wonderful vessel to soak up sauce. It’s a fast way to cook eggplant, and even more important, the texture transforms and becomes silky soft, tender, and creamy.
Related: Roasted Eggplant Parmesan
In this recipe, step 2 is a trick to keep that gorgeous purple on the eggplant, otherwise it will turn brown. You can omit this step, though; it has no effect on the taste. When layering eggplant in the steamer, I’ve found that piling the pieces yields the best result. Place the bottom layer skin down to prevent over-steaming, then pile the other eggplant segments on, criss-crossing them to create air pockets so steam can reach every piece.
From the book MY SHANGHAI by Betty Liu. Copyright © 2021 by Betty Liu. Published by Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permissions.
Related: Eggplant Matzo Lasagna
Rest Time: 15-20 minutes.
Cut off the base of each eggplant, then cut each eggplant into 3 segments. Halve each segment lengthwise so that you have 6 pieces total per eggplant.
Add the white vinegar to a large bowl of water. Add the eggplant pieces and let them sit in the vinegar water for about 15 minutes.
Set a bamboo steamer over 2 inches (5 cm) of water in a wok, and bring the water to a boil over high. Place a layer of eggplant skin side down in the steamer, then pile the remaining pieces on top, working in batches if necessary.
Cover and steam the eggplant over high for about 7 minutes, until soft and easily pierced with a chopstick. The texture should be silky soft and creamy but still firm enough to hold its shape. Set the steamed eggplant aside in a colander to cool slightly.
Meanwhile, mix together the light and dark soy sauces, black vinegar, sugar, sesame oil and white pepper. Set the sauce aside.
When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, tear each piece lengthwise into strips about ⅜ inch (1 cm) wide. Arrange the eggplant strips on a plate. Pile the ginger, half of the scallions and the garlic in the center of the eggplant.
In a small saucepan, heat the cooking oil until it bubbles when a chopstick is inserted, about 3 minutes. Pour the hot oil over the aromatics. They should sizzle and release a gorgeous fragrance.
Drizzle the soy sauce mixture and chili oil, if using, over the eggplant. Top with the remaining scallions, the toasted sesame seeds and cilantro leaves. Serve immediately at room temperature.
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