When made right, the eggplants are quickly pan-steamed to open them up for the sauce, and then slowly braised in an oil-free blanket of soy sauce and seasonings. Only when they are about to be removed from the heat is a smidgen of toasted sesame oil allowed to round out the textures and add a touch of nuttiness.
Another of this region’s brilliant members of the pentoucai brigade, these Oil Braised Eggplants are super simple and simply super. We used to enjoy them at our old favorite Yangtze region restaurants in Taipei, where they would sit expectantly in the fridge at the front of the shop, their lovely shriveled bodies promising rich flavors and melting tenderness.
I used to devour cold ratatouille all the time when I lived by myself in Taipei, usually as a big scoop straight out of the icebox. Cooling, delicious, and nutritious, it made me a happy camper of the first degree.
But Jiangsu just might have the jump on Provence here, for these splendid denizens of the Yangtze River area are the real deal. Even if you are not crazy about eggplant, something like this just might change your mind.
Oil braised eggplants
Yóumèn qiézi 油燜茄子
Zhejiang and Jiangsu
Serves 4 to 6
4 Chinese eggplants (about 20 ounces / 800 g), left whole with the tops still attached
½ cup boiling water
3 tablespoons regular soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots or onions
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1. Rinse the eggplants and cut them in half or thirds crosswise, so that you have fat batons or more or less the same size. Place them in a wok with the boiling water, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook them covered for around 10 minutes, or until most of the water has boiled off. Toss them around gently so that all sides are cooked.
2. Remove the cover and add the soy sauce, sugar, and shallots or onions. Shake the wok to evenly distribute the seasonings, cover, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Adjust the heat to maintain a good bubbling, but you want to give the eggplants time to cook down, release all of their moisture, and yet not burn, so adjust the heat as needed. Shake the pan occasionally, but don’t use a spatula, as the eggplants are going to turn very soft.