The other day my family spied some baby eggplants, stripy with purple and white, at our Whole Foods. They were labeled “Indian eggplants” and were on sale — as in not just for sale, but offered at a discount price…which we all know is unusual for “Whole Paycheck.” I was very intrigued for a variety of reasons: One, food historians believe that all eggplants originated in India, so I was unfamiliar with this cultivar and pretty sure that it wasn’t really called “Indian”; two, I was piqued by the sale price of $1.29 a pound; three, my husband doesn’t particularly like eggplant but appeared to be pondering these ones anyway. So, we went for it. For a couple of days, the cute fruits (eggplants are actually fruit, but they’re almost always cooked and treated like vegetables) just sat there. At some point my husband looked in one of my cookbooks that was hanging around our nightstand, The Breath of a Wok by the Chinese cooking teacher Grace Young, and found a recipe he liked the sound of called “Spicy Garlic Eggplant.” It was a quick and simple stir-fry, with slivers of eggplant tossed in a soy-garlic-ginger sauce. Still, the eggplants sat there. Finally, one morning I woke up and got on it: Ten minutes later we were eating the most delicious, salty-savory, aromatic eggplant stir-fry, for breakfast. Now, this dish is quick to make and easy to love but I do recommend that when you try it, unless your stomach is made of teflon, you eat it for dinner.
Note: I never did find out exactly what those eggplants were, but any medium-to-small Asian variety of eggplant will do.
P.S. We listened to “Car Talk” on National Public Radio while we made this dish; if you’d like, share your favorite cooking music with me here.
Spicy Garlic Eggplant
Adapted from “The Breath of a Wok” by Grace Young
Makes four appetizer or two main-course portions
4 medium Asian eggplants (about 1 1/4 pounds)
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup minced garlic
1/4 cup minced ginger
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 cup minced scallions
1. Cut eggplants into 2-inch sections, then halve each section lengthwise. Cut each half lengthwise into thirds to make sticks. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, vinegar, wine, sugar, salt, and pepper flakes. Set aside.
2. Steam the eggplant in the microwave: Place eggplants in a small microwave-safe bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 3-5 minutes or until the eggplant is tender when pierced with a knife.
3. Heat a wok over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in the vegetable oil, add the garlic and ginger, and stir-fry for about 10 seconds. Add the eggplant and stir-fry for 20 seconds. Stir the sauce, swirl it into the wok, and stir-fry until the eggplant is heated through, about 1 minute. Drizzle on the sesame oil and scallions. Pour over rice, if you’d like. Serve immediately.