Shanghai Home-style Eggplant Is Enough To Make Me Swoon

chinese food
Image Credit: Friends Eat.

Americans lose weight on the Chinese diet. These words of wisdom were readily offered by many of my students when I was an English teacher in south China. I was already spry when I moved overseas at 23. In the States I walked and cycled everywhere and ate a relatively healthy diet, so I wasn’t looking to drop weight. However, I had no idea I’d pack on the pounds during my nine months in China. That would be the logical conclusion if you eat your way around the country.

chinese food
Image Credit: Ctny.

When I wasn’t being escorted to formal meals where my foreign affairs officer plied me with plate after plate of Chinese delicacies and prodded me to smile as he made business deals with our all-male dinner crew, my university students loved to go out with me for inexpensive meals to share their favorite regional dishes and to chat in English and Putonghua (Mandarin).

On the rare occasion I’d venture out for a solo meal, I always ended up ordering qiezi bao, an eggplant clay pot dish that was simmered over the fire with slivers of dried fish and a rich, oily sauce. For three yuan (what was equivalent to 40 cents USD at the time), I would get a bowl of rice and the clay pot and make my way through that savory, melt-in-your-mouth eggplant until any remnant of homesickness was smothered by gingery oil. Qiezi bao was the dish that coaxed me back to the occasional seafood dish. That was also the dish that helped me gain 10 pounds in a matter of months.

I have searched high and low for that same eggplant preparation in the U.S., but none of the restaurants I’ve patronized have taken much effort to recreate this dish. Fortunately, Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice contains eggplant recipes I’ve been itching to try. The only reason I haven’t made all of the recipes yet is because my husband detests eggplant. Don’t worry. I wouldn’t allow a true moratorium on one of the best vegetables on the planet. We do, however, only have so much time in the day for cooking. Usually we make an effort to find food we both enjoy when we’re eating together and save our unique food preferences for days when we’re not cooking for each other.

eggplant recipe
Image Credit: maryem.

As soon as I heard Cameron would be out of town for the week for a conference, I cracked open the Dunlop’s book to the chapter featuring eggplant and started making a grocery list. The Shanghai eggplant dish featured in this post is not the exact qiezi bao recipe, but it does include ingredients you should be able to find at a regular supermarket. Bear in mind that this recipe calls for deep frying the eggplant. I usually avoid recipes that call for cooking with too much oil, but for my long-lost vegetable friend, the eggplant, I’ll make an exception.

Speaking of friends, my favorite Denver couple, Mark and Kate, not only share my love for Chinese food but also respect the glory that is eggplant. They came over for dinner earlier this week and brought along a bowl of lemony kale that complemented the rich eggplant and Bear Paw tofu dishes I made. Mark also brought along his camera (he’s an independent photographer as well as a photographer for Governor Hickenlooper). As you can see by the image that precedes the recipe below, Mark has a knack for food photography. If only I were rich enough to pay him for his kick-butt photography skills.

chinese eggplant dish
Image Credit: Mark Broste.

Shanghai Home-Style Eggplant: Jia Chang Qie Zi
(adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice)
Serves 3 as a side

Ingredients
– 2 Japanese eggplants
– Salt
– 1 cup plus 2 TBS cooking oil
– 4 TBS vegetarian stock
– 1/2 TBS light soy sauce
– 1/2 tsp dark soy sauce (I only had low-sodium soy sauce so I used for light and dark soy sauce.)
– 1 tsp sugar
– A few thin slices of peeled ginger
– 1 spring onion, green parts only, finely sliced (I hate to waste the white bulb, so I included in this recipe.)

Directions
1. Cut the eggplant in half lengthways, then into 3 sections. Now cut each section lengthways into about 3 chunky strips. Sprinkle lightly with salt, mix well, and leave to drain in a colander for 30 minutes.

2. Heat a wok over high flame. Add the oil and heat to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Add the eggplant in a couple of batches and deep-fry until tender and golden. Set aside to drain on paper towels.

3. Combine the stock, soy sauce/s, and sugar in a small bowl.

4. Pour all but 1 TBS oil into a heatproof container and return the wok to a high flame. Add the ginger and sizzle briefly until you can smell its fragrance. Give the stock mixture a stir and pour it into the wok. Return the eggplant to the wok and stir briskly until the liquid has largely evaporated. Then stir in the spring onions and serve.

shanghai vegan chinese recipe
Image by author. Mark’s looks way better.

If you’re looking to make a vegan Chinese feast, you could start with this Smacked Cucumber in Garlic Sauce Salad before serving up this eggplant dish alongside Blanched Choy Sum with Sizzling Oil, and sweet and spicy Sichuan Tofu.

24 Comments Add yours

  1. hollykaann says:

    That looks and sounds awesome! Here at the farm we have eggplant coming out of our ears right now and I am looking for new and varied ways to cook it. We love it- well almost all of us. 4 out of 5 is a home run in my book!

    1. gwynnem says:

      Thanks, Holly! My family grew italian eggplant when I was a kid. Between the yield on those and the yellow squash, we ate so many veggie fritters.

      If you making this for more than 3 folks, I’d double the recipe. If you’re lucky, there might be leftovers. 🙂

      1. hollykaann says:

        That is good to know about the servings. I was planning to double the recipe. It’s a matter of habit when you cook for six.

  2. Respect for aubergines/eggplant! Yum yum yum … this looks delicious. Summer for me would not be summer without aubergines.

    1. gwynnem says:

      Same here. If you have any tasty aubergine recipes that are a little less indulgent, I’d love to know about them. Otherwise, I’m likely to gain that 10 pounds back with this recipe on weekly rotation!

  3. Aubergine/eggplant is one of my favourites, but I’ve never had it deep-fried. Bet it tastes amazing. Regardless of the fat content!

    1. gwynnem says:

      Yeah, that fat content gets murky whenever I make this. Less thinking, more eating. 😉

  4. Jody and Ken says:

    Holy cow that looks good! The last thing I need right now is anything deep fried, but for this I’m willing to make an exception. Break out the Fuschia. Ken

    1. gwynnem says:

      Ken, this is one of my favorites from her book!

  5. hännah says:

    Wow, I’ve never been crazy about eggplant but this looks delicious. I’ll be picking some up next time I’m at the store. 🙂

    1. gwynnem says:

      Hope you liked it, Hannah. The work-to-flavor ratio is definitely in the flavor’s favor. 🙂

  6. Aubergine must be deep fried in my opinion! Caramelized part and the soft part together… my mouth is watering. 😛 I’m with Jo!

    1. gwynnem says:

      I could eat this at least once a week (now that I admit how decadent it is.) 🙂

  7. Fig & Quince says:

    “The glory that is eggplant!” Couldn’t agree with you more and Shanghai style looks delicious.

    1. gwynnem says:

      I can thank my friend Mark for his master photography skills for this post. 🙂

  8. Sophie33 says:

    This is a classical aubergine dish that I eat often! I love it too!

    1. gwynnem says:

      Thank you, Sophie! It’s so good. 🙂

  9. Gwynne, This looks absolutely delicious! I didn’t realize you were an English teacher in south China. What a fascinating experience that must have been. Have you written more about it? All the best, Terri

    1. gwynnem says:

      Thank you, Terri! Sorry for such a delayed reply. For some reason I didn’t get the nudge that I’d received comments on the post. I hope you have a chance to make this recipe. I’d eat it every week if my husband was a fan of eggplant. 🙂

      I have written a little more about my time in China in a few posts here, and the novel I’m writing is set in China (for part of it, anyway). The country and my experiences there left an indelible mark on my life. I feel very lucky to have had the chance to live there.

  10. What a lovely story! Sounds like a great time teaching in China. I’ve never lived out of the country (and likely won’t at this point) but have always been fascinated by the idea.

    1. gwynnem says:

      The older I get the harder it is to imagine living abroad the way I did when I was in my twenties. I’m not nearly as intrepid, particularly when it comes to sound sleep, (something I didn’t get much of when I was traveling and living abroad!).

  11. I’ve never enjoyed eggplant so much as I have here in Asia! This recipe looks great and I LOVE Fuschia Dunlop’s writing/recipes so will definitely try this one out 🙂 Thanks!

    1. gwynnem says:

      Thank YOU for stopping by. I was always a fan of eggplant, but when I ate it in China, I just about lost my mind. It was that good. Let me know how yours turns out if you try it. I bet you’ll have no trouble getting your hands on the ingredients.

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