Saturday, 8 March 2014

Sea-spiced Aubergines

The correct translation of this very-popular Sichuan dish, is 'fish-fragrant' aubergines, but I tend to think people are more familiar with 'sea-spiced', which doesn't give the incorrect impression that there is any actual fish in the dish (the term comes from using flavours often used to cook fish with).

This quantity would serve four as a vegetarian main dish, or six to eight as a vegetable side dish, or as a selection of Chinese dishes and it's a great accompaniment to a drier dish (like a steamed dish such as my Steamed Chilli Chicken, maybe some home-made Char Siu Pork or a smoked dish such as Tea-Smoked Chicken or duck). This entire quantity is only 337 calories, making it 84 calories per serving for a main, and only 42 to 56 calories for a side dish (depending on whether serving between eight or six people).

Unlike some Chinese dishes, it freezes and re-heats well - the next day I tossed some of it with some cooked noodles and stir-fried mince with a little extra light soy and sesame to make another really quick and tasty dish (see notes below for noodle ideas using this)!

I have given you the option of either baking the aubergines (then cooling and slicing) or slicing them first then steaming them. If you're not afraid of deep-frying, and you're not counting calories, then you could cut the aubergines into chunks, and then deep fry them in batches for 3 or 4 minutes each until just slightly golden, before continuing with the rest of the recipe. Whichever way you choose, the result is going to be a spicy, savoury dish with rich, moist aubergines, and bags of flavour, excellent to serve alongside other oriental dishes, especially my steamed chicken with salted chicken (I've also written a method to cook these in the Thermomix Varoma, alongside rice in the internal steamer basket, for a full meal).

650 to 700g aubergines (about three medium-sized) [130]
1 tsp neutral oil (e.g. groundnut, sunflower, ricebran etc.) [45]
1 1/2 tbsp chilli bean paste (see notes below for easy substitutes, NOT generally gluten free, but suggestions below, including my easy salted chillies)  [20]
2 inches finely grated/crushed ginger root [7]
5 large garlic cloves, crushed [30]
150ml light chicken (or vegetable) stock [8]
1 tsp sugar [16]
1 tbsp light soy sauce (for gluten free use tamari soy sauce) [8]
1 tsp potato flour (or cornflour/cornstarch) mixed with 1 tbsp cold water (optional) [11]
1/2 tbsp Chinkiang / Chinese black vinegar (contains wheat - for gluten free substitute balsamic vinegar) [3]
4 spring onions, sliced finely on the diagonal [14]
1 tsp toasted sesame oil [45]

Firstly cook the aubergine. You can either cook in the oven, or steam it (or cook as part of a meal in a Thermomix, with or without steamed chicken with salted chillies and rice - see here for method).

If you prefer to oven cook it, preheat the oven to gas mark 6 / 200c / 400f. Wrap the aubergines loosely in foil (individually or together), place on a metal tray and bake for 30 minutes. Carefully open the foil out (beware of steam) and cook for a further 15 to 30 minutes (depending on the size of the aubergines you've used) until just tender. Set aside until cook enough to handle, and then quarter lengthwise and cut into slices about 1cm thick.

If you would like to steam your aubergines, cut the top off, quarter them lengthwise, then cut into slices approximately 1cm thick. Arrange in a steamer tray randomly, with plenty of space in between for the steam to get through, sprinkle over a pinch of salt and steam over boiling water for approximately 10 to 12 minutes (or in the TMX with 1 litre cold water, 20 minutes/Varoma/Speed 2 1/2), until tender (if you find they've cooked slightly unevenly, don't worry as you'll be cooking them through a little more in a wok in the sauce).

Take a good, non-stick wok and make sure you have some recently boiled water to hand, in case you need to add it near the end. Put over a medium high heat, add the oil, and then add the chilli bean paste (or chopped fresh or salted chillies) and cook for about 15 to 20 seconds to release the flavour into the oil, then add the ginger and garlic and cook for another 20 to 30 seconds until fragrant, being careful nothing catches or burns. Add the stock, sugar and soy sauce and give a quick stir, then add the cooked aubergine slices and simmer for about five minutes or so (or until cooked through to your liking), to allow them to absorb the flavours (and if you've steamed them, any of the less cooked slices to cook through).

From this point, if the liquid seems to be evaporating to quickly at any time, add a little more hot water from the kettle. Stir in the potato/cornflour mixture along with the vinegar, and incorporate thoroughly, turning or tossing until the sauce thickens. You will only have a small amount of sauce (you can make this without adding the starch too if you like, as the aubergines will absorb most of the liquid). Add the majority of the sliced spring onions, and toss through for a minute, then finally stir in the toasted sesame oil, taste for seasoning (add a dash more soy, or pinch of salt, if you think it needs it) and serve, scattered with the remaining spring onions.

The next day
You could make a quick noodle dish, by adding this to some cooked noodles (or zero noodles), and stir-fried poultry or meat (e.g. thinly sliced chicken, beef or pork, or some mince - I used vegetarian mince). To serve two people, I cooked two servings of noodles (per pack) and meanwhile I quickly stir-fried about a cup full of (Quorn) mince with a splash of soy, added one portion of sea-spiced aubergines to heat through, then added the cooked, drained noodles and a large handful of bean sprouts, and stir-fried for another minute or two, with extra soy and sesame oil to taste, for a really quick and easy meal.

Re. chilli bean paste (the Sichuan variety)...

Chilli bean paste is not generally gluten free as it contains wheat. ('Yeo' make hot bean sauce which is gluten free - more suggestions for gluten free alternatives here.)

Some large supermarkets will sell (general) chilli bean paste in the world food aisle, such as Lee Kum Kee Chilli Bean Sauce, and you will certainly find it at oriental stores. I can't tell you the name of the brand I use, as it's in Chinese characters!

Substitutions: for gluten free, or if you can't get hold of any, substitute salted chillies for some savoury heat, or a couple of chopped fresh chillies and a little (extra) tamari soy sauce (or you could add a tbsp crushed yellow bean paste [which contains wheat] for the fermented bean flavour, if you're not looking to make it gluten free).

1 comment:

  1. this is a great dish very tasty and also goes well with cauliflower rice which is very low in cals also made a nice salad when cold thankyou for sharing recipe big love marc


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