For people who love the flavors and textures of Ma Po Tofu but who aren’t fans of tofu, there’s Ma Po Eggplant.
I debated for days whether to start a section on Chinese cooking. It’s such a broad subject with an unbelievable number of regional cuisines. In the end, I decided to go ahead. It should be quite an adventure.
While Teochew cuisine is delicate, Shichuan cooking is defined by its bold flavors. Central to these is the Sichuan peppercorn which, by the way, is related to neither pepper nor chili. Sichuan peppercorn has lemony undertones and its spiciness creates a tingly and numbing sensation in the mouth.
Yes, Ma Po is spicy. The first time I had Ma Po tofu at a restaurant, I found myself downing cup after cup of tea to get rid of the heat in my mouth. But it was so delicious too that, after learning where to buy Sichuan peppercorns, I started cooking it at home.
Why substitute eggplants for the tofu? My daughters aren’t fans of tofu.
Ma Po Eggplant
- 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon fermented black beans
- 1 half-inch knob ginger
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 shallots
- 3 large Asian eggplants
- 4 tablespoons cooking oil
- ¼ kilogram ground pork
- 1 tablespoon chili bean paste
- ½ teaspoon chili flakes
- ¼ cup Shao Xing rice wine
- ¾ cup broth
- 2 tablespoons corn starch
- 6 scallions cut into half-inch lengths
- few stalks cilantro
- Toast the Sichuan peppercorns in an oil-free pan then grind (with a mortar and pestle or an electric grinder).
- Drain the fermented black beans, rinse, drain again then pound.
- Peel and mince the ginger and garlic.
- Peel and chop the shallots.
- Cut the eggplants into one-inch cubes.
- Heat the cooking oil. Add the ground pork and, over high heat, cook until the meat changes color.
- Add the ground Sichuan peppercorns and black beans and cook until fragrant, about a minute.
- Add the garlic, ginger, shallots, chili bean paste and chili flakes. Pour in the Shao Xing rice wine. Bring to the boil.
- Stir in the eggplant cubes.
- Stir the corn starch into the broth and pour into the pan. Continue cooking, stirring often, until the sauce clears and thickens.
- Lower the heat, cover the pan and cook until the eggplants are done, about 10 to 12 minutes.
- Taste. Add salt, if needed.
- Transfer the cooked Ma Po eggplant to a serving bowl or platter, sprinkle the sliced scallions on top followed by the cilantro, and serve immediately.
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