Growing up in a small town our family rarely went out to dinner and with a diet based in my parents German and English roots our taste buds were pretty limited. So a really special fancy meal out for us was at the one Chinese restaurant in the town, a place that was text book americanized chinese food complete with chow fun and no tofu on the menu but seemed exotic and out of the world for a kid whose daily dinner was breaded meat, boiled potatoes and canned veggies. They didn’t even have chop sticks unless you asked for them and we of course never did.
I remember be fascinated by how the vegetables were cut and the taste of soy sauce. My mother who was also convinced that we would die if we didn’t have at least a half of dozen servings of vegetables a day always made us get a veggie dish and that’s how I got to know Chinese eggplant.
Unlike other varieties of eggplant the Chinese eggplant has a thinner skin, a slender shape and isn’t as bitter as other eggplants. That means it’s easy to cook with the skin on and without using salt or water to leech out the bitterness.
One of the first dishes I made on my own when I became a college vegetarian was a stir-fry and it’s still one of those dishes I do when ever I have a pile of veggies and am not sure what to do with them.
I like now trying different vegetable that you wouldn’t normally have in a Chinese cuisine. I was inspired to use the leeks because my spouse is French and has a love of leeks which while alien to me, I’ve grown to love. They combined the sharpness and tanginess of onions with the heartiness of a root vegetable.
3 leeks (wash them if there is still sand in them)
1 1/2 cups of button mushrooms
3 ounces fresh black trumpet mushrooms
2 chinese eggplants
4-5 slices of fresh ginger
5 cloves of garlic, crushed
olive oil as needed
water to steam the veggies
I cheat by using a ready made sauce usually, the one I used for this dish was a shiitake soy ginger sauce which you can make by mixing soy sauce, dried garlic, ginger powder, dried shiitake, rice wine and rice vinegar. Not to mention I don’t use a cast iron wok instead using a non-stick wok shaped pot.
Slice all your veggies, doing the chinese at an angle because it looks pretty. You want to remove any green leafy part of the leeks and cut them in 1 inch length pieces. Saute the leeks until they start getting translucent and then add the ginger, garlic, the eggplant and a small amount of water and cover the pot with a lid to cook the veggies. Once the eggplant has started to cook, add the button mushrooms. When everything is almost fully cooked uncover and add your sauce and the black trumpet mushrooms. The black trumpets add a nice earthy taste that contrast with the sweetness of the now caramelize leeks.