As I'm sure I've said before I really know very little about Chinese food. Of course I can stir fry stuff or chomp on sesame toast, and I have experienced the Indo-Chinese cooking that's produced dishes such as gobi manchurian. However it's only recently that I've had my horizons broadened about the regional variation present in Chinese cooking (thanks internet!) and learnt about some new ingredients too.
I think I first read about fish fragrant aubergine on Lizzie HollowLeg's blog. This is a Sichuan dish, that doesn't actually contain any fish, but is aubergine cooked in style that fish is often prepared in (apparently). It can sometimes also contain minced pork, but as non-meat eater Lizzie's use of tofu seemed like an excellent alternative protein. As I wasn't sure I'd be able to get all the ingredients she used, I also found a slightly simpler recipe from the writer and Sichuan food expert Fuschia Dunlop. So here's my recipe, which takes elements from both and omits the things I couldn't find in the shop.
Recipe (enough for four as a side dish with other things):
1 large aubergine
Enough sunflower oil to fry the aubergine
Around 10 ready-fried tofu pieces
4 cloves of garlic (turned into a paste with the ginger)
Thumb-sized piece of ginger (in a paste)
2 tblsp chilli bean paste (Fuschia also gives excellent advice on which chilli bean paste to go for, and I chose the Chuan Lao Hui brand)
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tblsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tsp granulated sugar
A few tablespoons of water
1 tsp cornflour (if needed)
2 spring onions, sliced
1 tsp sesame oil
Firstly cut the aubergine into fishfinger-sized pieces, and cook them however you prefer. I shallow fried them in a frying pan in a couple of batches, but you could deep fry, or even brush with oil and bake them. They do need to be cooked through though. Once the aubergines are done, put a couple of tablespoons of oil in a wok and stir-fry the chilli bean paste for a couple of minutes on quite a high heat before adding the ginger and garlic paste. If anything looks like it's sticking add a little water, and keep it moving. Then add in the tofu, aubergine, soy sauces, sugar and vinegar, stir well, and reduce the heat. Let it all simmer for a few minutes, and add the cornflower if there's lots of liquid (I didn't need to bother with this step). Cook out the cornflower, if you're using it, for a further few minutes and then stir in the spring onions and sesame oil, and take the wok off the heat.
And tah-dah, my first bit of Sichuan cooking was done!
I decided to cook the fish fragrant aubergine as part of a Chinese dinner with salt and pepper squid, Sichuan-style prawns (blog posts to follow), and some steamed green vegetables with sesame oil. But the aubergines would have been perfectly fine on their own with some rice. I really loved their spicy, succulent-ness with hints of sourness and sweetness.
It was also great to be able to cook with some unfamiliar ingredients like the chilli bean paste and black vinegar. I still don't know too much about it, but on the basis of this dish I think I might quite like Sichuan food.