Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On Irving

For years and years, until we moved away, my family went to the same Chinese restaurant in San Francisco.  We always had the same waiter, named Lu, and we more or less always ordered the same stuff: hot and sour soup, black mushrooms and tofu, sweet and sour fish (my dad, the only non-vegetarian at the time), mixed vegetables and tofu, and spicy eggplant (my mom).  Lu always had the same series of corny jokes (Would you like a little rice? And then he'd serve you three grains of rice...) and we always laughed, and when we moved away we were sad, but my dad would go back whenever he was in town.  A couple of years we were in San Francisco together and decided to go by the restaurant, which used to be called Beijing on Irving but changed owners and therefore changed names.  Lu, however, was still there.  My dad greeted him warmly but I kind of figured Lu was pretending to remember him (my dad now has a head of white hair, and I mean, how many customers must he have done the little rice bit with?) but when it came time to order my dad said, "well, you know what I'm getting right?" (Cue embarrassed daughter, thinking, there is no way this poor guy remembers us and there is even less of a chance that he remembers what my dad ordered 10 years ago...I used to waitress and I hated when customers put me on the spot like that) Lu looked at him for a second. "Sweet and sour fish!" 

And though the restaurant's name and owner may have changed, the food is somehow exactly the same.  I don't remember what else we ordered (nor do I remember the restaurant's new name) but I'm pretty sure we didn't get the spicy eggplant as it was always more my mom's thing, though we would all eat it too.  Beijing's eggplant was spicy and garlicky and (like many restaurant eggplant dishes) quite oily.  It was also delicious, but I hadn't thought about it in a long time. 

Which is why I have no idea how or why it occurred to me the other day, but I decided I wanted to make a chinese-style eggplant dish (I say that as if "chinese-style" actually meant something more concrete to my brain other than soy sauce), and what came out (at least to my memory) is just like Beijing's though it's quite a bit less oily. I used less garlic and less chile than I would have had I been cooking just for myself or for my family (Colombians are wusses-- though badly researched tv series may think otherwise, many many South Americans--not only Colombians but also Argentineans, Chileans and Uruguayans for starters, neither like nor tolerate spicy food) but it was so good and so fast and so right that I made it again the next night.  I recommend you do the same, and when I say you I mainly mean my mother and/or brother, though everyone else is welcome to as well.

Beijing Eggplant

1 large globe eggplant (or 2 long japanese ones)
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 hot red chile, chopped finely (use less or more, depending on your like of heat)
green part of 4 scallions, chopped (or the green part of one Argentinean green onion)
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
3 Tbsp. white vinegar (I imagine rice vinegar would work nicely, but make sure it´s the unseasoned kind)
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
4 Tbsp. soy sauce
4 Tbsp. water

Slice the eggplant in half vertically, then slice each half in half again as if you were halving a cake in order to fill it (as opposed to quartering the eggplant-- you want the "lengthwise slices shown in the third and fourth pictures here).  Lay the slices out and sprinkle them with salt, letting them rest while you prepare your other ingredients.
Chop the garlic, chile, and scallions.  In a small bowl, mix together the sugars, vinegar, and cornstarch, stirring until the lumps disappear, then add the soy sauce and water.
Blot the eggplant with a paper towel or an absorbent (clean) cloth.  Stack the eggplant layers and cut horizontally into 1/2 inch. strips.  Heat a cast iron or other large heavy skillet (or wok) over high heat and throw in the oil.  When the oil is smoking hot, throw in the eggplants.  Let them sit for a minute, then stir.   Let them cook over high heat for another 5 or so minutes, letting them take on some color and stirring only once or twice.  Throw in the garlic and chile, stir and let cook another minute. Turn off the heat and immediately pour in all the soy sauce mixture, stirring to mix.  It should bubble up and thicken in the heat of the pan.  
Serve with rice.  Sweet rice vinegar cucumber pickles would be really good on the side too. 

Berenjena a la Beijing

una berenjena grande
2 cucharadas de aceite vegetal
2-4 dientes de ajo, picados chiquitos 
1/2 ají rojo picante, picado chiquito (usa mas o menos, depende si te gusta el picante o no-- uso los ajíes comprados de las verdulerías de los bolivianos, que son picantes y de hecho echo menos de la mitad porque son muy fuertes. Prueba tu ají primero, y si quieres menos picante no eches las semillas.)
la parte verde (las hojas) de una cebolla de verdeo, picada
2 cucharadas de azúcar
1 cucharadas de azúcar rubia (o una cucharada mas de azúcar blanca)
3 cucharadas de vinagre de alcohol
1 cucharada de maizena
4 cucharadas de salsa de soya
4 cucharadas de agua

Parte la berenjena por la mitad verticalmente, después corta cada mitad nuevamente como si estuvieras partiendo una torta para rellenarla (como la cuarta foto aquí). Salpica las tajadas con sal y dejalas reposar mientras preparas los otros ingredientes.
Pica el ajo, el ají, y el verdeo.  En un bol chiquito, mezcla los azucares, el vinagre y la maizena, revolviendo hasta que no queden grumos, después añade la salsa de soya y el agua.
Seca la berenjena con una hoja de papel de cocina.  Haz una pila de las tajadas y cortalas horizontamente en pedazos de 1 cm. Caliente un sarten grande con un fondo pesado (o un wok) sobre fuego muy alto y echa el aceite.  Cuando el aceite este muy caliente, echa la berenjena.  Dejales un minuto sin revolver, revuelveles una vez, y después dejales cocinar sobre fuego muy alto otros 5 minutos, dejandoles broncear un poco, revolviendo un par de veces no mas.  Echa el ajo y el ají, revuelve y dejala cocinar un minuto más. Apaga el fuego e inmediatamente echa todo la mezcla de la salsa allí, revolviendo para mezclarla bien.  Deberá hervir y espesar con el calor del sarten.
Sirvela con arroz.  Pickles agridulces de pepino con vinagre de arroz serían ricos como acompañamiento tambien.

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