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Sunday, 17 March 2013

A Good Egg(plant)

How can anyone not simply adore these slender, elegant, glossy purple beauties?

I refer of course to that gorgeous nightshade vegetable – the eggplant (or the aubergine) (or the brinjal). (And I hope I’ve covered it all, because that’s as far as my vocab stretches.) (This by the way is after I generated much chaos and confusion in the ranks with my post on courgette muffins) (Which if you still don’t know (sigh) is the same as zucchini.)


Anyway, I’m going to ignore the calls of patriotism tugging at my heartstrings and stick to calling it eggplant in this particular post. Not because I’m pandering to the Americans. The British never pander to the Americans...

(Now, don't you laugh. That's NOT funny.)

No really, it’s because (rather unusually) I came up with the title for this piece before I actually sat down to write it and - even if I say so myself - I think its a rather clever title, no? So, nope. Even though I drive on the left side of the road, which of course is really the right side of the road, I’m not going to be changing my title to “A Good Aubergine” or  (heaven forbid) “A Good Brinjal.”

Though I totally reserve the right to change my mind at will for future posts.

I’m a girl in a whimsical land.

Anyway, as I was saying - now that we've got semantics out of the way - I am amazed, confounded and bedazzled by how anyone with any sense could not just simply adore the eggplant.
But there’s plenty who don’t.
My funny, freaky, wonderful, handsome, loving charming husband for one.
And (though it’s pinching me to admit this) he’s got sense. Quite a lot of it.

Thereby, leaving me amazed, confounded and bedazzled.

See, it's not as simple as - I like it and he doesn’t.
It wouldn't really make much of a story then would it?
No, no.
See - I love it and he’s scared of it.
Yup. Properly scared. 
So scared that he actually runs away from it. If you think I'm joking, people, let me assure you that I'm not. For if I so much as take an eggplant out of the fridge and dangle it in front of his face, my husband – a grown man – will turn on his heels and run. 
(I have to admit, it’s rather a funny drill when you’re bored and in dire need of entertainment) (Which is often the case with me) (So I do it for fun sometimes, even if I don’t have the slightest inclination to cook the thing.) (But don't tell anyone.)

Which brings me to the whole point of this: Not only will Sid not dream of ever eating eggplant, he is so terrified by it that he won't let me eat it in his presence. Some nonsense about the texture. Or something. 
Anyway, what all of this means for all practical purposes, is that for always and forever more, I am confined to eating eggplant in secrecy.
(Don’t ever be telling me I don’t make sacrifices in my marriage)

But today?
Today (and for the next five days for that matter) I have been released from the shackles of oppression and shall be eating eggplant wherever, whenever and however I wish.

Yes. That’s right.
I’ll let that sink in for a moment, while your unbridled imagination runs through every and all possible permutations and combinations.
And while you’re at it, don’t think - even for a single moment of presumed sanity – that I wont do that.

Damn right.

Ok, so I’ll give you another second to regain full and complete control of your imagination - yes the one that was so merrily running unchecked just seconds ago. And answer the question on the tips of all your tongues.

Which is (I think): How come?
And the answer, my friends, is: Because, my eggplant-hating husband has gone!!
Hip-hip, Yay, Whoopie. Etc.

Yes. He’s gone.
Gone for a whole five days on one of those dreadful business trips where they make you fly nineteen hours for a single, 30-minute meeting, under the illusion that the folks you are sent to meet are actually even remotely interested in listening to what you have to say. I’ve been there, you know. And they’re not. They’re usually sitting there in their Brooks Bros and Co. business suits and wondering what’s for lunch.

Still. One doesn’t argue with one’s superiors.
That would be a no-no.
So one goes.
So he’s gone.
And I can eat eggplant.

Not that I don’t miss him terribly. He is quite brilliant company you know. Apart from being the love of my life. 
Well, it's true.
But then one must always strive to be positive.
And find silver linings around clouds and such.
And so I have.

Humour me please.

Now, life (as you well know) is just totally full of irony.
Which is what makes it all so interesting.
Really, what would life be without its playful little twists and turns?
(Boring is the answer, by the way)
(And honestly how boring, is boring)

So, life is full of irony. Oft referred to as cosmic irony. You know, those itty-bitty incongruities of fate - the ones that make you cock your head and curl your lips and wonder who’s actually sitting on the other side of the game board, amusing themselves by toying with your mind?
Yup. That’s it.

And so it is with this. See, because while I love eggplant universally, irrespective of whether its grilled, roasted, fried, mashed, steamed, baked or curried – my undisputed favourite recipe is the madly-addictive, lip-smacking, coma-inducing, utterly delectable – Spicy Sichuan Style Eggplant.

And in one of life’s great-little ironies, my eggplant-hater is spending the next five days in - wait for it - China.

So while he’s in the land of Sichuan, I propose we make some Sichuan.
What do you think?

Here’s what you need:

- 1 large eggplant, preferably the Asian variety (long and skinny)
- 2 tablespoons groundnut oil
- 200 ml hot vegetable stock
- 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2.5 cm piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 red chilli, chopped
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon corn starch
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 2 tbsp chilli bean sauce 
- 2 teaspoon crushed Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 tbsp Chinese black vinegar, or balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 1 spring onion, finely chopped

Here's how you do it:

Slice each eggplant in half lengthwise, then slice each length into quarters. Cut each quarter in rectangular batons, and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the vegetable stock, chili bean paste, soy sauce, vinegar and sugar. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a wok until smoking hot.  Add the eggplant batons and stir-fry for a few minutes until outsides become golden brown and the flesh inside begin to soften. Now add the garlic, ginger, chilli and peppercorns and stir-fry for 30 seconds until fragrant. Pour in the sauce mixture and mix well.  Blend the cornflour to a paste with 2 tablespoons cold water and stir this into the wok, cooking until the sauce has thickened. Simmer for 5 minutes to allow the eggplant to cook fully and absorb all those gorgeous flavours. 

Remove from the heat, plate it, sprinkle with the spring onions – and tell me it isn’t worth it!

(Not that I don’t miss my husband or anything…)

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