Today I am making an absolutely delicious eggplant recipe, “Oriental Sweet Chili and Garlic Eggplant.” It is inspired by a similar dish which we ate our local P.F. Chang’s restaurant over the Christmas holidays. We have a family tradition of eating at a P.F. Chang’s Restaurant some time during the winter break and have been going there, off and on, for about 10 years. It has become a challenge for me to order one of their menu items and then reproduce the dish at home. This year we tried P.F. Chang’s “Stir-Fried Eggplant” which was an entree. Of course, it was outstanding. It used an Indonesian-type chili paste in the recipe which gave a unique flavor to the dish. The eggplant was flash fried in a wok and then tossed with the sauce — I guess this is a “Asian-fused” menu item. Since it includes elements of Chinese cuisine, I am featuring this recipe during the Chinese New Year holiday.
P.F. Chang’s is an Asian concept restaurant presented in a very American-style dining setting. It claims to feature fresh foods which are prepared daily in the restaurant and then flash fried in woks. It includes foods from many Asian cuisines — Chinese, Korean, Mongolian, Thai and, in my recipe, Indonesian cuisine. I always enjoy the quality and variety of foods taking into account the Americanized setting. Some of my favorites which I have successfully adapted at home are “Cauliflower Tempura with Gochujang Sauce,” “Dynamite Shrimp” and “Crispy Salted Shrimp.” I’m sure that I will find more of P.F. Chang’s menu items to prepare at home in the future.
Contrast this dining experience to a traditional Chinese restaurant. This week, we took in a lunch meal at one of our favorite Chinese dining places. The restaurant was decorated for the Chinese New Year with red banners. Of course, there was no silverware at the table — only chopsticks — and we were the only ones asking for silverware (or speaking English as our first language). Around came the dim sum cart and the soup of the day was “Winter Melon Soup.” (For clarification, the “winter melon” in this soup is a very bland, white gourd or melon most likely found in Oriental markets. It is not watermelon or honeydew.) Anyway, the traditional Chinese meal, including the soup, was delicious.
Chinese Lunar New Year
This year, the Chinese Lunar New Year is the “Year of the Rabbit.” The holiday began on January 22, 2023 on a Sunday and will end with the Lantern Festival on February 5th. The Chinese New Year celebrates the beginning of a new year based on the lunisolar Chinese calendar. It is one of the more important Chinese holidays and is commonly called the Spring Festival. This 15-day holiday marks the end of winter and beginning of spring. (In China, only the first 7 days are considered to be public holidays.) There are so many myths and customs associated with this holiday in the Chinese culture that it is impossible to discuss them all in this blog post. Of couse, an imporant event is a family gathering on the Chinese New Year’s Eve with an elaborate meal celebrating family and ancestors. Locally, I could hear fireworks exploding in the distance to mark this evening which was being celebrated by the Chinese and Vietnamese population in the area.
While I can’t exactly reproduce P.F. Chang’s “Stir-Fried Spicy Eggplant, ” I can fix something that comes very close and in taste and appeal. The key component in P.F. Chang’s preparation is a “Sweet Chili Soy Glaze” which is made using sambal oelek chili paste. Sambal Oelek is a spicy Indonesian chili paste made with ground hot red peppers, salt and vinegar. There are many variations to this chili paste — but this is basically the scaled down-Americanized version. To recreate the dish, you really need to use this oriental chili paste. Other ingredients, if substituted, don’t give the same flavor. Fortunately, sambal oelek chili paste is easy to locate in oriental markets as are the other ingredients in the sauce/glaze.
To make the sauce (or glaze), simply combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. These are added to the cooked eggplant. Actually, this is a very simple dish to prepare.
The glaze is added to diced eggplant which has been flash fried in oil in a very hot wok. Here’s the problem for me. Hot woks and I don’t get along very well, especially when deep fat frying. It requires a well-ventilated cooking area and protection as the oil tends to splatter. I “Americanized” the process by frying the eggplant in oil in a heavy skillet (or Dutch oven) by frying and then steaming the eggplant until tender. Then I added lots of minced garlic, and cooked a few minutes longer. The goal is to achieve tender eggplant which isn’t soggy. It worked, and my dish turned out well. After the eggplant was cooked and tender, I added the sauce and mixed it with the eggplant.
The P.F. Chang’s uses Japanese eggplant in their dish. I couldn’t find this variety in my local grocery in the wintertime and substituted a large, purple globe eggplant — which I peeled and cut into cubes. Again, this adaptation was fine.
To thicken the glaze, I dissolved cornstarch in water. This was added to the eggplant preparation. Once the sauce thickened, the dish is finished. Serve with sliced green onions for garnish.
And no matter what, serve the eggplant with rice.
This recipe is a keeper. The “Sweet Chili and Garlic Sauce” is seasoned just right — not too hot for my palate — but with a nice oriental “punch.” I am pleased with my recipe adaptation from P.F. Chang’s and hope you enjoy my recipe too! And, happy New Year!
Oriental Sweet Chili and Garlic Eggplant
- 1 large globe eggplant (about 1 to 1-1/2 lb) or 5 to 6 cups peeled and cubed into 1″ pieces
- 2 Tbsp oyster sauce
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup water for sauce plus water as needed for cooking eggplant
- 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp sambal oelek chili paste
- 1/2 Tbsp hoisin sauce
- 1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
- 2 – 4 Tbsp canola or peanut oil, more as needed, for frying
- 1 Tbsp minced, canned garlic
- 1 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water
- Cooked long grain rice, for serving*
- 2 green onions, sliced, for serving
Method and Steps:
- Peel eggplant and cut into 1″ cubes. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, mix ingredients for sauce — oyster sauce, soy sauce, 1/4 cup water, rice vinegar, sugar. sambal oelek chili paste, hoisin sauce and sesame oil. Set aside.
- Heat 2 Tbsp oil over high heat in a heavy large skillet, Dutch oven or wok. Add the eggplant cubes. Toss and stir eggplant until all is coated with oil, about 2-3 minutes. Add additional oil as needed so that eggplant does not stick.
- Turn heat to low. Partially cover, and cook for 10 minutes until eggplant is tender but not mushy. Check occasionally and gently toss. If eggplant begins to stick, very carefully add 1/4 cup water at a time (oil may splash).
- Remove lid. Increase heat to medium. Add minced garlic and cook 1 additional minute, stirring occasionally.
- Briefly stir sauce ingredients to recombine. Add to eggplant and carefully toss to combine. Cook for 2 minutes until sauce is heated through.
- In a small bowl, combine cornstarch with 1/4 cup cold water to dissolve cornstarch. Pour into eggplant mixture, stirring constantly, and heat to bubbling and thickened.
- Serve with hot, cooked rice. Garnish with green onion slices.
*NOTE: To cook rice, combine 1 cup long grain rice and 1 tsp salt to 2 cups water in a small heavy pot. Cover tightly with lid. Bring to just boiling over high heat on stove. Immediately turn to low heat and steam for 25 minutes until water has absorbed and rice is cooked.