This article was originally featured in The 30 Second Wine Advisor's FoodLetter on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2005.

Sichuan-style eggplant and garlic

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

About 10 small round eggplants or 4 long Italian eggplants or 1 big one
2-4 garlic cloves
1-inch (2.5cm) length fresh ginger
Dried red-pepper flakes
2 tablespoons (30g) Sichuan hot bean paste
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice-wine vinegar or white vinegar
1 cup (240ml) chicken stock
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch (corn flour)
3 tablespoons peanut oil
4 ounces ground or finely chopped pork


1. Cut the eggplant into bite-size pieces, leaving the skin on. (NOTE: Many recipes call for salting eggplant and leaving it in a colander for a time, then patting off the salt and liquid "to remove the bitterness." I don't bother. Eggplant isn't bitter.)

2. Peel the garlic and ginger and mince them fine. Put them in a small bowl with dried red-pepper flakes to taste.

3. Mix the hot bean paste (available in Asian markets), soy sauce, vinegar and chicken stock to make your seasoning mix.

4. In separate small bowls, blend the lime juice, sugar and sesame oil to make a flavoring mix, and dissolve the cornstarch in a little water.

5. Make sure all your ingredients are in reach: It's time to stir-fry. Put your wok (or large skillet) on a burner turned up high, and let it heat until it's sizzling hot and, as noted, a small splash of water vaporizes on contact. Drizzle in the oil, swirl it around the bottom of the wok, and let it heat until it shimmers. Put in the garlic, ginger and red-pepper mix, stir-fry quickly until the garlic and ginger turn translucent, then add the pork and cook just until it loses its raw color. Add the eggplant pieces and stir-fry, keeping them moving with two wooden spoons (or wok tools if you use them) until they start to soften and brown on the edges. Add the bean paste and chicken broth seasoning mix, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Stir, cover, and simmer until the eggplant is tender. This may take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes, depending on your eggplant.

6. Uncover, stir in the sweet-sour lime juice mix, and thicken with the cornstarch, using a little at a time until the sauce is the thickness you like. Serve immediately with plenty of steaming white rice.

This dish can easily be converted to a meatless entree by simply omitting the pork (which is only a bit player) and substituting vegetable broth or water for the chicken broth. The bold seasonings and earthy eggplant will still make a delicious, if somewhat less complex, dish.

It may seem unconventional, but I've had great success matching Chinese dishes with Italian table wines, perhaps unconciously enjoying the Marco Polo connection between Italy and China. This one, made with a more mild than fiery level of chile-pepper spice, went very well with a fresh young Valpolicella Classico. And of course, cold beer or hot black tea is just about always a fine match with Chinese fare.