Monday, March 25, 2019

Casserole for the Vernal Equinox

As the seasons slowly change and we drift from cold weather to warm and from rain to sun, lots of comfort food goes to the top of my needs. Too much change is in the air, and I want something simple and delicious to keep me grounded This simple casserole fits my needs perfectly.

Even better, I can do the drudge work ahead of time here. As eggplants always seem to want to dissolve into sludge before I’m ready to eat them, I cut them up into pieces and either deep-fry or bake them within a day or two of bringing them home. Either way, I slice the eggplants lengthwise and then cut them crosswise into halfmoons. Then, if I’m in the mood to bake, I toss them with oil and roast them until they are brown. Otherwise, I deep-fry them in small batches to achieve a similar level of caramelization.

The other main component is the bean curd. You can use whatever kind you like. For this kind of dish, I tend to prefer regular doufu, since it’s firm enough to withstand the braising without crumbling, and yet it’s tender enough to form a link with the eggplant. Because the eggplant has been fried or baked, I don’t fry the doufu, as this provides more visual and textural contrast.

Gorgeous Asian eggplants
The last-minute assembly is a great reason to have this on your short list of cool weather dishes. All you really need to do is toss everything together and bring it to a boil. If you simmer the casserole for a short time, the eggplant will stay chunky, which is nice. Or, you can simmer it slowly for an hour or so, by which point the doufu will turn spongy and the eggplant will break down into a silky sauce. And that is incredibly sexy. 

Eggplant and bean curd casserole
Qiézĭ dòufŭ bào 茄子豆腐煲
Cantonese cuisine
Serves 4

2 pounds (or so) Asian eggplant (aubergines)
Peanut or vegetable oil, as needed
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons minced ginger
½ cup | 125 ml mild rice wine (Taiwan Mijiu)
¼ cup | 60 ml oyster sauce or vegetarian oyster sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
Water, as needed
14 ounces | 400 g regular bean curd
3 or 4 scallions, green parts only, coarsely chopped

1. Cut off the stem ends of the eggplant and then slice the eggplants lengthwise in half. Cut the eggplants crosswise into halfmoons about ¾ inch | 2 cm wide. If you want to roast the eggplant, toss the slices in some oil, place them in one layer on a rimmed pan, and bake them at 375ºF | 190 ºC. Toss them every 15 minutes or so, and remove when they are caramelized all over. To deep-fry them, put about 1 inch | 2.5 cm oil in a wok or frying pan and set over medium heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, fry the eggplant in small handfuls until caramelized. The eggplant can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated.

2. Pour the sesame oil into a sandpot or saucepan and set it over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger, and then stir until the fragrance is released. Add the eggplant, rice wine, oyster sauce, and sugar. Cut the bean curd into 3 equal slices, and then cut each slice into 4 triangles. Add the bean curd to the eggplant and pour in enough water to almost cover everything. 

3. Bring the liquid to a full boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to very low and simmer at least until the bean curd is heated through, about 20 minutes. Or, you can simmer it until the eggplant breaks down and the sauce is reduced to a thick syrup. Either way, keep an eye on the liquid so that the pan doesn’t boil dry and burn.

4. Just before serving, taste and adjust the seasoning. Toss in the scallions and heat for a minute or two to barely wilt them. Serve immediately with hot steamed rice.