This is a classic Sichuan dish that is spicy, sour, salty, and sweet all at the same time. You can find Sichuan peppercorns at a Chinese grocery store on the cheap, or you can order them online. The Sichuan peppercorns give this dish its characteristic tingly sensation and spicy flavor.
Tip: To grind the Sichuan peppercorns: Toast peppercorns in a dry heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until very fragrant and smoking, 3 to 5 minutes (be careful not to let them burn). Grind, while still hot, to a powder in an electric coffee/spice grinder (or a blender/food processor). If you want, you can sift through a fine sieve, discarding hulls.
Time: 30 minutes
Adapted from Appetite for China
- 1 1/2 pounds Asian eggplant
- 2 tablespoons chicken stock, or substitute water
- 2 tablespoons chili bean paste
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar, or substitute good-quality balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns
- Scallions, thinly sliced, for garnish
1. Slice each eggplant in half lengthwise, then slice each length into quarters. Cut each quarter in somewhat substantial, but still bite-sized, cubes (about 1 1/4-inch to 1 1/2-inch cubes).
2. Prepare the sauce: In a small bowl, mix together the chicken stock, chili bean paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar, rice wine, sugar, and cornstarch. Set aside.
3. Heat the oil in a wok over high heat until a bead of water sizzles and evaporates on contact. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and swirl the pan to coat the base and sides. Add the eggplants and stir-fry until outsides become golden brown and insides begin to soften, about 2 to 3 minutes.
4. Add the garlic, ginger, and Sichuan peppercorn and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
5. Pour in the sauce mixture and mix well. Simmer for 3 to 4 minutes to allow the eggplant to fully cook and the sauce to thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon.
6. Remove from the heat, plate, and sprinkle scallions on top.