Stuffed aubergines with black bean sauce

Serves 4 as a main course
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Indy Lifestyle Online

I have eaten this dish many times in the New Diamond in Lisle Street in London's Chinatown, in the early hours of the morning. Having failed to find it in any Chinese cook books, I often tried asking the waiters how it was made and what goes into it but it was probably as difficult for them to understand our question as it was for us to decipher their reply. I asked again at Wings in Woodford, Stockport (0161-432 5799), and Wing, the owner, knew exactly what I was talking about. He went straight to the kitchen and magicked up a couple while we sat tight and watched on the screens that show the chefs at work behind the scenes. Even that screening didn't leave me much the wiser about what they'd done, so I have come up with my own version.

I have eaten this dish many times in the New Diamond in Lisle Street in London's Chinatown, in the early hours of the morning. Having failed to find it in any Chinese cook books, I often tried asking the waiters how it was made and what goes into it but it was probably as difficult for them to understand our question as it was for us to decipher their reply. I asked again at Wings in Woodford, Stockport (0161-432 5799), and Wing, the owner, knew exactly what I was talking about. He went straight to the kitchen and magicked up a couple while we sat tight and watched on the screens that show the chefs at work behind the scenes. Even that screening didn't leave me much the wiser about what they'd done, so I have come up with my own version.

In the New Diamond's way, the result can be a bit oily, as the aubergines absorb so much oil as they fry and then release it when the sauce is poured over. Don't worry if that happens: it won't alter the taste.

2 aubergines weighing about 400g each
Vegetable or corn oil for frying

for the sauce

1tbsp sesame oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
30g root ginger, peeled and finely grated
1tbsp rice or cider vinegar
4tbsp sugar
100 light soy sauce
200ml water
1 12tsp cornflour dissolved in 2tbsp water
2tbsp Chinese salted black beans, washed in cold water and drained

for the stuffing

350-400g fatty minced pork
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
20g root ginger, scraped and finely chopped
4 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
1tsp Chinese five spice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

First make the sauce. Gently cook the onion, garlic and ginger in the sesame oil for 3-4 minutes without colouring until soft. Add the rice vinegar, sugar, soy sauce and water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes then stir in the cornflour mix. Bring back to the boil, add the black beans and simmer gently for a further 10 minutes before removing from the heat.

Meanwhile cut the ends off the aubergines and cut into 1 12cm-thick round slices. Lay them on a board and lightly sprinkle with salt on both sides and leave for 10 minutes.

While the aubergines are salting, mix all the ingredients together for the stuffing and season. Wash the salt off the aubergines and dry on a clean tea towel. With the point of a sharp knife make a 2-3cm slit through the skin of each aubergine slice and work the point of the knife into the flesh, almost to the edge of the skin but taking care not to pierce it, to make a pocket as large as you can. Push as much stuffing as possible into the pockets with your fingers, again being careful not to break the slices. Don't worry if the stuffing bulges out a little. It's hard to gauge exactly how much stuffing you need, and you may find you have either slices or stuffing left over.

Heat a non-stick pan with about a tablespoon of vegetable oil and fry the aubergines on a medium heat, adding another tablespoon or so during cooking, for about 5 minutes on each side until a nice golden colour. You may need to do this in 2-3 batches depending on the size of your pan. Take out and drain on kitchen paper to absorb oil. Then return all the aubergines to the frying pan and add the black bean sauce, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 4-5 minutes turning the aubergines over after a couple of minutes. Serve with some sprigs of coriander.

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