The weather has been a beast here this week. It has been as hot and humid as Satan’s armpit, the kind of weather where your window AC seems to churn the heavy air rather than actually cool it. We’ve eaten a few of those cold olives and sliced tomatoes and bread and cheese suppers which I think are really lovely in the summer when tomatoes are sweet and juicy and raw or barely cooked vegetables are crisp and tender. Tacos of course required a little cooking, but not a lot. Salsa, slaw, and ice cream for dessert were fresh and light.
While the weather was still hot this weekend, I had worked a long day and felt like something savory and substantial. I had picked up a handful of slim violet Asian eggplants at the farmers market earlier in the week without a plan for how to use them and decided to quickly wok cook them with a spicy garlicky sauce. Eggplant can feel really savory and satisfying, soaking up whatever sauce they are cooked in.They are really one of my favorite things to eat. Combined with spicy sauce made with some Asain pantry staples, fresh soft tofu and fragrant Jasmine rice, the meal was cooked and I was away from the stove in about 20 minutes.
Spicy Garlic Eggplant and Tofu
1 tablespoon fish sauce*
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
3 tablespoons gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon corn starch
¼ cup water
6 cloves garlic
4 Hungarian wax or Banana wax peppers
3 Asian eggplants
14 ounce package soft tofu
toasted sesame oil
Hot cooked rice
Mix the fish sauce, soy sauce, gochujang, sugar, and water and whisk together until everything is smooth. Mix the cornstarch and water in another small bowl.
Thinly slice the garlic cloves. Chop the scallions into ½ inch pieces. Slice the peppers in half lengthwise, deseed, and slice them into thin slivers.
Remove the stem end from the eggplant, slice them in half lengthwise, and them chop the halves into 1 inch pieces. Remove the tofu from the package, drain, and cut into 1 inch cubes.
In a large wok or skillet, heat a couple of teaspoons of oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the garlic, scallions and peppers into the oil and stir constantly, cooking until they begin to soften. Add the eggplant and continue to stir. Cook the eggplant until the skin turns from purple to brown and the eggplant begins to soften, about 5-10 minutes. Take care not to burn the vegetables; if they begin to brown, lower the heat and add a small pinch of salt. The salt will help the eggplant release some of their water and help keep it from sticking. Gently stir the tofu cubes into the eggplant. Pour the sauce mixture in and stir. Cover and bring the sauce up to a simmer. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, just to infuse the eggplant and tofu with its flavor. Pour the cornstarch slurry over the sauce and stir. Bring it back to a simmer so that the cornstarch thickens the sauce. Drizzle with toasted sesame oil and stir. Serve over hot cooked long grain rice.
*For a completely vegetarian recipe, substitute another tablespoon of soy sauce for the fish sauce
*For and even spicier Sichuan-inspired version, substitute 1 tablespoon of Sichuan chili bean paste for 1 tablespoon of the gochujang and add a pinch of Sichuan peppercorns.