Friday, 22 April 2011

Chinese Eggplant Casserole

With my recent cravings for Eggplant with Yuxiang Sauce Casserole, I was inspired to attempt to make my own eggplant casserole.  Until now I've only done stir-fries with eggplant, and even then I've found stir-frying eggplant to be a bit challenging.  Eggplant stuck easily to the wok, but adding more oil to cook eggplant would have made the dishes less healthy.  Steaming was possible, but not suprisingly the pieces closer to the bottom cooked more quickly than the pieces near the top.  To convince myself to try making an eggplant casserole, I rationalized that the pieces should cook more evenly and in a fairly healthy manner as all the pieces would be equally immersed in a liquid.
My first attempt ended up as Chinese Eggplant with Beef in Black Bean Sauce Casserole.  I didn't have the mans to make my own Yuxiang sauce, but I did have some black bean sauce in the fridge, and I knew from past dining experience that eggplants and black bean sauce went well together.  The eggplant pieces were soft and tender to the bite, and they all absorbed the flavours of the sauce pretty well.  In hindsight, though, I wouldn't mind adding a spicy kick to this dish.  In any case, it was a decent homemade belly-warmer.  Also, I caution that Chinese eggplant (the long, slender version) should be used.  Italian eggplant may not necessarily work with this dish; I know Italian eggplant is great for baking and grilling, while Chinese eggplant works well with stir-fries and casseroles.

Black beans here refer to douchi, or fermented black beans and shouldn't be confused with the legume black bean.  Douchi need to be soaked for a while and then roughly ground up with a mortar and pestle before they can be used to make a homemade black bean sauce.  Pre-made black bean sauce is also readily available in Asian supermarkets if preparing douchi at home is not up your alley or is not possible.

To turn this into a vegetarian dish, cut out the beef and add vegetable stock instead of water at the latter stage to maintain a degree of flavour.

Chinese Eggplant with Beef in Black Bean Sauce Casserole
3-4 Chinese eggplants
~200g flank steak, sliced (1-2mm thickness)
75-90mL (4-5 tbsp.) black bean sauce or soaked black beans
Cooking wine
Dark soy sauce
Corn starch
Sesame oil
Vegetable oil
  1. Combine steak slices with ~5mL (~1 tsp) corn starch, a few dashes of cooking wine, pepper, sesame oil and dark soy sauce in a small mixing bowl.  Mix until even and set aside
  2. Slice eggplants lengthwise into quarters or six sections, depending on the size of the eggplants.  Cut these eggplant sections into ~7.5cm (~3") lengths.
  3. Heat pot at medium high.  When pot is hot enough, add some vegetable oil and the eggplant.  Add a pinch of salt and a splash of water, place cover and let cook for ~5 minutes.
  4. Remove cover and add beef and black beans/black bean sauce.  Add water to almost cover the mixture.  Replace cover and let cook for ~5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally..
  5. For a thicker sauce, mix corn starch with some water in a small bowl and stir starch mixture evenly into the pot when the eggplant and beef are almost done.  (If no beef is added and/or black beans are used instead of black bean sauce, the starch mixture may be more necessary.)
  6. Remove from heat and serve.

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