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Strange-Flavor Eggplant

Recipes for something called Strange-Flavored Eggplant (or odd-flavored eggplant) pop up a lot in cookbooks from the 80’s. I discovered this while researching the origins of a starter we ate at Nopi in London. The rather unassuming plate was a sort of smashed up eggplant spread flavored with (what tasted like) sesame oil and soy sauce. It was sweet and sour and so delicious that we considered asking for a second of the same plate because we liked it so much. I came home and started to research the dish and kept coming across these recipes for strange-flavored eggplant.

At first I was worried the origins of the name might be racist-y (strange=foreign?). But it seems as though maybe it has more to do with the translation of a Chinese character? I don’t know. The title certainly doesn’t sell the recipe, which is actually quite wonderful. It isn’t what we had at Nopi, but is similar in its vibrancy. It is full of the flavors of Chinese-American cooking and pretty hard to resist. It really does stimulate the palate and get you excited to eat dinner, which is what we are all looking for in a starter.

In other news, I very happily contributed some of my favorite things to the latest issue of Lonny [1]. I care about home design almost as much as I care about food, so it was a fun opportunity to get to engage in some of that with an online magazine I’ve always enjoyed. I am happy with the way my spread turned out (go designers at Lonny!),  I hope you’ll all check it out [1].

***The dip is best if made the day before you plan on serving it, the flavors really do develop. I served it with some garlic toasts, but I am sure you will have other good ideas. I am thinking about using the leftovers in an improvised fried rice dish.

Strange-Flavor Eggplant (recipe by Barbara Tropp from the China Moon Cookbook [2])

Eggplant:

Aromatics:

Sauce:

Preheat oven to 475°F.

Remove the leaves from the eggplant and prick in several places. Bake, turning once, until fork-tender, 20 – 40 minutes. Remove eggplant from oven and slit lengthwise to speed cooling.

While still warm, remove the stem end and peel, scraping off the pulp and reserving. Process the pulp in a food processor until nearly smooth.

Combine aromatics in a small bowl. Combine sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

In a large skillet over med-high heat, add oil and swirl to coat. Cook aromatics until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add the sauce and simmer briefly (30 seconds?). Add eggplant puree to skillet and stir well to blend and heat through.

Remove from heat, taste and adjust chile flakes, sugar or vinegar to achieve a well-balanced flavor. Stir in sesame oil. Refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to meld. Serve at room temperature.