Monday, February 27, 2012

Chinese Eggplant Szechwan Style

For me, food is about four cornerstones - life,  culture, connection, and alchemy that together form a type of food practice. Practice meaning that its something I try to engage in consciously, fully embodying in all aspects of its preparation - purchasing, washing, chopping and cooking.  These four practices approach cooking food in a mindful healthful manner all the time. 

Szechwanese cuisine incorporates their own four practices in honor of the "Four circuits of rivers" which was named after the division of the existing circuit, into four during the Northern Song Dynasty between 960 and 1279. Circuits were political divisions in China, based on geography. 

As an off shoot to the "Four Circuits River" Szechwan cuisine has amalgamated the four circuits into their signature cuisine, described in four words as: spicy, hot, fresh and fragrant. I think it's quite compelling how the Sichuanese revered their Four Great Traditions, which is known as "one dish, one shape, hundreds of dishes, hundreds of tastes", as the saying goes, to describe its acclaimed diversity. 

Chinese Eggplant
In the same way that Szechwan cooking incorporated their divisions into a one unifying cuisine, I, too have integrated the culinary sensibilities of Szechwanese cooking into my own cooking repertoire. The act of mindful eating, incorporates tastes, looks, touch and smells into one unifying dish. 

This popular Szechuan dish is made with Chinese eggplant, which is thinner and longer than the short and thicker eggplant that is commonly available in supermarkets. With an aromatic sauce made with chilies, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and ground pepper, this dish has proven to be irresistible. Even though it's known by it's namesake "Fish Fragrant Eggplant," I can tell you that it certainly does not taste like fish, but rather, the name refers to the method of preparation usually associated with fish in Sichuan cuisine that results in hot, sour, salty, and sweet flavors all co-mingling on the plate.

Rather than deep-frying, like many other recipes call for, I like to use just a bit of oil and stir-fry until the outsides are golden brown. This seems to result in a less oily, but still flavorful, eggplant dish that has a meaty chew.

Serves 4

2 small Chinese Eggplants
1 teaspoon salt
3 dried red chilies
Grapeseed oil, for frying
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger root, finely chopped
4 scallions, cut into 1 inch lengths and separating the white part
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon Gluten Free Soy Sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil

  1. Trim the eggplant and cut into strips about 1 1/2 inches wide by 3 inches. Place the eggplant strips in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Set aside for 30 minutes to drain the bitterness from the eggplant. Then rinse under cold water and pat dry with a paper towel.
  2. Meanwhile soak the chilies in warm water for 15 minutes. Drain, then cut each chile into four pieces, discarding the seeds.
  3. Pour a thin layer of oil into the skillet under medium high heat. Once sizzling, saute the eggplant until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. 
  4. With the left over oil in the skillet, add the garlic, ginger and white scallion parts.
  5. Saute for 30 seconds or until fragrant, and then add the eggplant and toss the rice vinegar, soy sauce and sugar. Stir fry for 2 minutes to blend in all flavors. Drizzle the sesame oil and green scallion parts. Serve immediately with rice or noodles.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Culinary Vegetarian Class with Vegetarian Hostess

sautéed vegetables and chickpea stew
I will be teaching a class this Spring at the Great Neck Adult Education Center in Long Island.
The class is called Vegetarian Entrees: Quick and Simple Dishes
All dishes are naturally Gluten Free and some are Vegan

Come and join me on a culinary caravan along the Silk Road (the famous trade route from China that goes all along the way to the Southern tip of Italy). From ancient times families along the Silk Route ate little meat, relying instead on inventively transforming their bounty of legumes, vegetables, and grains into wholesome, thrifty, and deeply satisfying meals. Add seasonal vegetables, some fast-track protein (think legumes and tofu), and, voilà, dinner is served—a balanced, inspired meal that’s outrageously good and so easy to prepare. What's more, is that many dishes along the Silk Road were large one pot meals to feed large families. So, enjoy a couple of hours of chopping and cooking to make fulfilling meals that will last you through out the week.

Learn quick and simple entrées that carry a full charge of flavor: sweet and spicy tofu stew (vegan and gluten free), sautéed vegetables and chickpea stew (vegan and gluten free), chickpea and quinoa casserole (dairy), and vegetarian chili (vegan and gluten free).

To enroll:
Click on Registration Form
Course: CA220-1
Monday, May 7th, 7–9:30 p.m. Cumberland Adult Center
30 Cumberland Ave
Great Neck, NY 11020
Phone: 516 441-4949 Fax: 516 441-4937 

$35. No nonresident surcharge

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Indian Carrot Pudding ~ Gajar Halvah

A very popular and traditional Indian dessert that is served on festivals- Halvah, which means sweet in arabic. Gajar halva is typically made with sautéing fresh carrots in ghee and cream, however this dessert is made with vegan butter and coconut milk, reducing the calories and making it dairy free. Carrots are naturally sweet and have been used for thousands of years along the Silk Route, as a sweetener is desserts in lieu of sugar. This halva is adorned with chopped pistachios and jeweled raisins with just a hint of cardamom. A little of this densely decadent pudding goes a long way, since it is so rich and flavorful. Can be served warm or cold with a dollop of ice cream after a spicy meal.

Serves 6


¼ cup vegan butter
6 medium carrots, shredded
2 cups coconut milk
¼ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup golden raisins
4 cardamom pods, bruised
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup unsalted pistachios, crushed (garnish)


                      1      Melt butter in a skillet and then add carrots. Reduce heat to medium low and coat carrots in butter.
                      2      Stir in the coconut milk and simmer uncovered on low heat for 45 minutes; stirring occasionally.
                      3      Stir in the brown sugar, raisins, cardamom, and salt. Stir constantly until all the sugar is dissolved into a pudding like consistency; about 15 minutes.
                     4      Wait until slightly cool to transfer to small dessert bowls. Store in the fridge and when ready to serve, invert onto a dessert plate and garnish with pistachios.

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