CSA Week 11: Chinese eggplant noodles

I’m posting out of order because Ben said I should get this recipe up for you guys. He rarely makes blog requests, so I’m listening! The week’s veg:

-The prettiest eggplant in the world
-1 pepper

I had a sudden vision one day of chinese noodles with an eggplant sauce and crispy bits of pork. That lovely little eggplant was too small for what I had in mind, so I picked up a smallish purple one at WF, along with scallions and noodles, and got down to business.

The noodles were a wheat/tapioca flour combo. I was charmed by their little paper belts and the awesome instructions on the package:

These are social noodles. Noodles who like to mingle.

Ahem. So I cooked those, rinsed them, and dressed them with a bit of soy, sesame oil, sesame seeds, grated ginger, a tiny bit of mashed garlic, and a smear of chili sauce.

Meanwhile I was roasting the eggplants, pierced all over, at 475 degrees until they were very tender (about 40 minutes for these eggplants). When they were done I cut them open to cool.

Then I scraped out all the flesh and pureed it with my stick blender.

At this point I looked at the ingredients I was assembling, looked at the prepared eggplant, and decided to just finish the job and use the recipe for Strange Flavor Eggplant (which I’ve written about several times) to make the eggplant “sauce.” Strange Flavor eggplant is one of my favorite recipes from Barbara Tropp’s China Moon Cookbook (which I’ve also written about several times), and is especially wonderful as a way to lure eggplant haters into trying it. It is sweet and spicy and savory and amazing. It’s also kind of unattractive, but you can’t have everything. I’ll paste the recipe in at the bottom of this post.

I made the sauce (soy, brown sugar, rice vinegar, hot water) and got the aromatics together (ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes, scallions).

Then, before finishing the eggplant, I combined 1/2 pound of ground pork with more ginger, scallions and soy (just a splash), and stir fried that in my wok.

I wanted the pork in little pieces, quite crispy. (I was thinking of an Indian-inspired carrot salad Jamie Oliver topped with crispy cumin lamb bits one time.)

It only takes minutes to finish the eggplant. You stir-fry the aromatics, pour in the sauce and bring it to a boil, then stir in the eggplant puree and heat it through. It smells astonishing, so that’s a bonus.

Once I’d finished that, I plated up the noodles, topping them with the eggplant and pork, with a few scallions for garnish.

Then we wolfed them down, mostly in silence. I ate leftovers cold for two days, barely waiting for noon before pouncing on my lunch. And I still had a bit of eggplant, so I’ve been sopping that up with french bread as a snack. Please try the eggplant, if nothing else! It’s so, so delicious. The recipe:

Strange-Flavor Eggplant
From the China Moon Cookbook by Barbara Tropp
Makes: 2 Cups

1 to 1 1/4 lb. large eggplant

o 1 tablespoon garlic, finely minced
o 1 tablespoon ginger, peeled and finely minced
o 1/4 cup thinly sliced green and white scallions rings
o 1/4-1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes

o 3 tablespoons soy sauce
o 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
o 1 teaspoon unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar
o 1 tablespoon hot water

2 tablespoons corn or peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon Japanese sesame oil
Garlic Croutons*
Scallions, thinly sliced, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 475F. Move the rack to middle position.

2. Prick eggplant well in several places with a fork or the tip of a sharp knife and remove the leaves. Bake on a baking sheet, turning once, until fork-tender, 20-40 minutes, depending on size. Remove the eggplant and slit lengthwise to speed cooling.

3. While still warm, remove tough stem end and the peel, scraping off and removing any pulp. Cube the pulp, then process the pulp and any thick baking juices in a food processor or blender until nearly smooth. (Eggplant differs enormously in water content. Some will leech nothing when baked, others leach a tasteless water, while some ooze a tasty liquid. It is only the latter that should be used.)

4. Combine the aromatics in a small dish. Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl, stirring to dissolve sugar.

5. Heat a wok or large heavy skillet over high heat until hot enough to evaporate a bead of water on contact. Add the 2 tablespoons oil, swirl to glaze pan, then reduce the heat to moderately high. When hot enough to foam a scallion ring, add the aromatics and stir-fry until fragrant, about 15 seconds, adjusting the heat so they sizzle without scorching. Add the sauce ingredients and stir until simmering. Then add the eggplant, stir well to blend and heat through. Remove from the heat, then taste and adjust with a dash more chili flakes, brown sugar or vinegar, if needed to achieve a zesty flavor. Stir in the sesame oil.

6. Allow to cool, stirring occasionally. The flavor is fullest if the eggplant is refrigerated overnight, sealed airtight. Serve at room temperature, spooned onto croutons* and garnished with a sprinkling of scallion.

* Garlic Croutons: thin slices of day-old French bread, rubbed with olive oil and garlic, and toasted.

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