Steamed aubergine in an intense spicy and nutty sauce

Steamed spicy aubergines

Smooth. Slithery. Soft. The texture of well cooked aubergines is their defining characteristic. More so than the gently nutty flavour, the pendulous shape, the glorious shades of purple. The main thing aubergines really bring to a dish is their delightfully soft and fleshy texture.

Not to minimise the taste, which neatly side steps big bullying flavours to come through, between and around them, linking and accentuating as it goes. Clever things aubergines. This particular ugly duckling of a dish, a marriage to an intense, pungent and spicy sauce, highlights this rare ability to shine through.

The sauce is a cacophony of clamouring ingredients held (teeteringly) in balance. Chilli heat and intense soy saltiness square up to the deep savoury tang of black rice vinegar. Sichuan pepper numb your lips as pungent garlic almost overwhelms your tastebuds. It’s a monster of a sauce, but a lovable one.

The aubergine provides a soft backdrop to all this Big Flavour. Take a mouthful and you get cool, slippery flesh accompanied by a deep blast of the sauce. Then the gentle nutty, distinctly auberginey, taste comes through as the heat dies down and the sugar and sesame come to the fore. Finally, when you swallow the chilli leaves a warm trail down your gullet and your lips are left tingling and slightly numb.

The dish
Serves 2-4, depending on what else you have with it

Cooked properly aubergine can be a softly spoken monarch among vegetables. Usually you have to use gallons of oil, which the spongey flesh just sucks right up, but not here. Ever since seeing a dish of steamed aubergine on Tamarind and Thyme, i have been wanting to try out this new (for me) way of cooking it. And it works. The steaming keeps the flesh moist and soft, there is no drying out, no burnt chewy bitterness. Just smooth, unctuous flesh.

The sauce is based on one by Fuchsia Dunlop from her Sichuan Cookery book. It;s meant to go with flat rice noodles and cold chicken, but I think it really suits the steamed aubergine.

3 slender Oriental aubergines (or one big pendulous Dutch type)
1.5 tblsp Shao Xing rice wine
1.5tblsp dark soy
1.5 tblsp Chinkiang vinegar
3 tblsp chilli oil + sediment
2 tblsp sesame paste
1 tsp sichuan pepper corns roast and ground
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tblsp caster sugar
2 tsp light soy
1 tblsp sesame oil

Steam the aubergines for 15-20 minutes, until their flesh is tender and starting to fall apart.

While the aubergine is steaming, mix together the sauce ingredients.

Chop the aubergine into bite sized pieces and add about half the sauce and toss. Leave to cool and serve with steamed rice or noodles.

9 Responses to “Steamed aubergine in an intense spicy and nutty sauce”

  1. gastrogeek

    What a sublime looking recipe – will definitely be making this one, I love a nice bit of aubergine

  2. Su-Lin

    Looks gorgeous! Just make sure you don’t oversteam it as I did once a long time ago and end up with a pile of mush! :D That mixture you put on top sounds gorgeous and I’ll definitely have a go at putting it together.

  3. The Grubworm

    @gastrogeek – thanks and…me too! I love a BIG bit of aubergine.

    @Kavey: Of all the veggies
    the sensual aubergine
    is most poetic

    @Su-Lin – it was your report from a Beijing restaurant that inspired this one. I had more issues with steaming it long enough – i kept having to delay the rest of dinner… The sauce is both flexible and delicious.

    @shayma – i’d love to hear how it goes (and what tweaks you make)

    @Gourmet Butcher – thanks! It really is a tasty veg, isn’t it.

  4. Greedy Diva

    Beautifully said – and about one of my favourite foods. I know a vegetarian who doesn’t like aubergines or mushrooms – what the..?!

  5. The Grubworm

    @Greedy Diva – thanks. Not liking aubergines? Does not compute….

  6. Lucie

    I read all your recipes that include aubergine! I love this veg but I never know what to do with it (appart from moussaka)! Thanks for sharing your recipes!

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