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seasonal transitions

Recipe: fish-flavored eggplant

I am approaching the end of chemo season, about to start radiation season. That’s part of the reason I haven’t been able to cook much lately. Too many appointments for X-rays, blood draws, port removal, consultations, etc. It’ll settle down eventually. Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to ready the patio furniture for the season of unrelenting sun and thunderstorms:

oil rejuvenates

Another unfortunate occurrence this time of year is the inevitable crashing of little hummingbirds into our vast expanse of windows. We’re in the midst of searching for decals to deter the crashes, but not soon enough to prevent one this morning. Luckily, the little dude was merely shocked and had not broken his neck like two others this past weekend.

a little male broad-tailed hummingbird

He took about an hour to regain his balance and strength, but it was delightful to watch him get feistier and twitchier until he buzzed away in a green blur.

chinese eggplant

I grew up eating what I called skinny eggplant. I wasn’t really familiar with those chubby eggplants until I left home because my mom used the Chinese or Japanese varieties to make fish-flavored eggplant – a fragrant and spicy stir-fry of ground pork and that lovely purple vegetable. It’s called fish-flavored (yu shian) eggplant even though there isn’t any trace of fish in the dish. It has to do with the combination of flavors to give it a fish flavor (but it doesn’t taste fishy to me…)

mise en place the main ingredients: eggplant, garlic, ginger, pork, green onions

If you’ve ever fried eggplant before, you know the stuff can absorb about ten times its weight in oil, leaving a saturated mess. My mom wilts the eggplant over a hot, dry pan first so it loses that spongy capacity for oil.

wilting the eggplant

Once the eggplant is sufficiently softened, I remove it from the pan. With the heat turned up to high, I brown the ground pork and then add the garlic, ginger, green onions, and hot bean paste. You can find a jar of spicy bean paste in any Asian market.

stir-fry the pork with other goodies

When the mix becomes fragrant, return the eggplant to the pan and sauté for a minute.

dump the eggplant back into the pan

Add the soy sauce, broth, sugar, vinegar, and sherry. Let this simmer a bit and then add the cornstarch and water to thicken the sauce.

a little cornstarch and water

This dish is great over steamed rice. You can make it as spicy or as not spicy as you like. Instead of hot bean paste, you can always use regular bean paste. Or you can make it spicier with the addition of chili garlic paste. If you like this, you might like fish-flavored pork, which is one of Jeremy’s favorites.

hot, spicy, and delish

Fish-Flavored Eggplant
[print recipe]

1 lb. Chinese eggplant, cut into thick matchsticks
3 oz. ground pork
1 tbsp hot bean paste (found in Asian grocery stores)
1 stalk green onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
2 tbsps soy sauce
3/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tbsp vinegar
1/2 tbsp cooking sherry
1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp water

Heat frying pan over medium high heat. Add eggplant and toss until the pieces begin to wilt and soften. Remove from heat and set aside. Add oil to the pan and set on high heat. Stir fry the ground pork, then add garlic, ginger, green onions and bean paste. Stir in eggplant and add remaining ingredients except for the cornstarch and water. Stir-fry for a minute while mixing cornstarch and water together. Add the cornstarch mixture to the eggplant and let sauce thicken. Serve hot.

35 nibbles at “seasonal transitions”

  1. barbara says:

    What a pretty bird. I love skinny eggplant and prefer it to the fat one. Good luck with the radiation. I hope it is over real quick.

  2. zoe / puku says:

    poor hummingbirds! he is very cute though, love the pink bib.. and I love the skinny eggplants… well, most eggplants/aubergines really!

  3. Rosa says:

    Such a cute bird! Very pretty!

    Your dish looks delicious! I love Asian-style eggplants!



  4. Jesse says:

    Woah, great job on taking such a brilliant picture of the hummingbird!

    I loooove fried eggplant… I actually kinda love it when it’s all saturated in oil and Indonesian shrimp paste-chili… oh yum.

  5. Erika says:

    Regarding the birds, the Audubon Society apparently recommends drawing cross-hatching on your windows with document highlighter that is largely invisible to you (and washable) but visible to birds, who see higher wavelengths of light better than we do. I don’t have the link handy, and I haven’t tried it, but it’s cheap and reversible, so perhaps worth a try if you can’t get decals right away?

  6. Jenny says:

    I put decals all over my windows, I put flapping black garbage bags outside the windows, I made scarecrows out of rakes…for almost three weeks those birds (not hummingbirds) but our general run of the mill birds that we get here in Long Island – keep flying into our windows. Luckily, they don’t get hurt (no hurt or dead birds found) but beak marks galore and well you know what happens when you hit a hard surface beak on…it scared the @#$% out of them. So my deck, grill, chairs etc. are covered in @#$% but now it is becoming less…I’m like a mad woman out there bleaching and cleaning for three weeks every spring. (I might try the cross-hatching highlighter – but my front windwows have wooden cross-hatching and that didn’t stop the birds). Good luck with the radiation.

  7. Bridget says:

    I didn’t realize you had a whole other set of treatments (or tests, or whatever) to go.

    Wow, that is a beautiful little bird.

  8. manggy says:

    I just want to put this out there:
    “pissed hummingbird.”
    Ah, now anybody searching Google images for a VERY specific image will no doubt be pleased at the result! Hahaha. I’m just kidding– I’m glad the bird survived (gorgeous pic, too). Large glass panels aren’t very popular here (lots of people get to see your business– including what can eventually be looted, oy). I hope the radioTx goes smoothly!
    In my head I’ve segregated “eggplants” and “aubergines.” Actually eggplant is the term we use here, and they are always those slender things. Occasionally there’ll be a fat “Western” one that I’d call an aubergine, just to be snooty. (Don’t laugh!) Yeah, they do absorb an incredible amount of oil, so I’m very impressed by your mom’s technique! Maybe I can finally make a decent eggplant stir-fry! (And I can use the chili bean sauce for something other than Imperial Shrimp!)

  9. Maya says:

    What a beautiful picture of the little guy! Delicious eggplant.

  10. KatieC says:

    My husband is now convinced that you’re some kind of sorceress because you can make hummingbirds sit still and eggplant look delicious. He wants to know if you’ll come visit us next winter (and cook for us). He said he’d tune your skis.

  11. RavingRecipes says:

    I absolutely LOVE the hummingbird. Watching them fly around always relaxes me. I love the recipe too! That looks amazing. Going to have to try it soon!

  12. Christine says:

    Jen- It’s amazing how you got such a sharp close-up of the hummingbird – the details and colors of its feathers are incredible. I could hang that photo in my house :)

    I’m really glad you posted this recipe. I’ve always wondered how to better prepare eggplant so that it doesn’t soak up so much oil. Vietnamese make something similar where they grill the eggplants before stir-frying with ground beef. But, I”m a grillin’ wimp so your method of dry-frying them is a valuable tip for me.

    The stain color for the deck looks great. We wanted to stain but the wood on our deck is not in great condition.

  13. Chuck says:

    I would LOVE some of that eggplant over a bowl of rice right now! The sauce looks really good. I didn’t know you were a hummingbird whisperer!?!

  14. Susan at StickyGooeyCreamyChewy says:

    That’s a stunning shot of the hummingbird! The detail is incredible. I also love that eggplant dish. It sure wouldn’t last long around here! Is the bean paste you use the same as spicy black bean paste or is it a different kind?

  15. Hanna says:

    I think I’ll give a go for this eggplant-recipe, u think it’ll work with fat ones, never seen those skinnies here in Finland?
    Really great blog, I’ll definatelly visit here again!

  16. peabody says:

    Your mom’s tip for eggplant is a good one. Will have to keep that in mind.
    The hummingbird is so cute. Currently the hummingbirds at my mom’s house are eating her out of house and home. I guess my mom is going through literally gallons of the feed a day. :)

  17. djstates says:

    Thank you for the tip on the eggplant. Blanching also reduces the oil absorption but leaves a lot of moisture in the eggplant. I will have to try wilting.

    Yu shian pork is full of possibilities. Ma Po Tofu is a favorite in our house; substitute bean curd for the eggplant and perhaps add Szechuan pepper.

  18. Kevin says:

    I am glad that the bird was ok. This eggplant dish sounds good! I picked up some hot bean paste for mapo tofu a while ago and I have been wondering what else I could use it for.

  19. Ginny says:

    I always salt my eggplant but I think this wilting method. Looks Excellent! In fact, I wanted to pass along an E for Excellent award to you! Reading you blog makes my day! I’ll be thinking about you as you start radiation!

  20. Courtney says:

    I haven’t been here in a while. I’m always blown away by your photographs.The eggplant dish looks great.

  21. jenyu says:

    Barbara – thank you, dear!

    Zoe/puku – aren’t they adorable? So tiny… I actually love all eggplants :)

    Rosa – thanks!

    Jesse – it’s easy when they’re stunned (but sad). ha ha ha, I haven’t had eggplant that way before, but I must admit it sounds good.

    Erika – yeah, we’re gonna have to do decals. Our windows are a bitch to get to in the first place and the surface area is enormous. But thanks for the info – I’ll keep that filed away for good use.

    Jenny – Wow, that sounds like a lot of cleaning! We rarely get that problem with our deck furniture. However, we still get strong winds and so we need streamlined deterrents that won’t get ripped away. It seems the only birds that run into our windows are the hummingbirds – all of the others zip around with no problem.

    Bridget – yup! 33 radiation treatments :) But luckily they won’t suck as much as chemo did.

    Mark – you goofball! Our windows aren’t too much of a problem because our house is quite high, but yes – no running around naked at night ;) Thanks, I hope radiation goes smoothly too. The permanent damage and potential permanent damage is a little disturbing to think about… I didn’t know eggplants were aubergines until just last year – and that’s from reading food blogs! Now I want you to post your Imperial Shrimp recipe :)

    Maya – thank you :)

    KatieC – ha ha ha! You guys are too cute. Not sure if we’ll be able to visit you guys because of Jeremy’s teaching schedule and because we’re po. Perhaps you guys would consider coming out to Ned to play. I’ll cook for you here and I’ll finally be able to hit the backcountry (this year it was out of the question because I could bleed to death being so far from medical attention during chemo). Think about it! We have a whole guest floor!

    RavingRecipes – I love hearing them buzzing around in summer :) hope you like the recipe!

    Christine – yeah well, he wasn’t moving much at all because he was in such shock, poor thing. The first time I made this dish I didn’t know about my mom’s trick and boy did that taste heavy and make me ill. Our deck is actually getting old and up here wood takes a beating from the UV at elevation and the winds and harsh winter conditions. We scrubbed the hell out of it last year and treated it. We’ll have to do the same next summer… Owning a house up here is work! ;)

    Chuck – you might call us hummingbird murderers based on our windows’ track record :( I hate it when they crash, but always feel so happy when they can recover and fly away like this little guy :)

    Susan – Yup! It’s the same bean paste. Sounds like you have some!

    Hanna – yes, it will work with the fat ones too. I’ve done it before when I couldn’t get a hold of the skinny ones. Thank you!

    Peabody – we are still trying to find a way to hang some feeders without having them crash into our house (high winds). Honestly, we just don’t work hard enough on our house. We’re bums ;)

    Djstates – I make ma pu tofu differently, but won’t be posting that until winter.

    Kevin – I’m glad he was okay too :) yup, use that hot bean paste for this dish and also add it to cold noodles if you like spicy!

    Ginny – oh thank you, sweetie! I’ve received the E award before, so I hope it’s okay if I don’t pass it along again. But you are very sweet to think of me. xxoo

    Courtney – thanks!

  22. Hanna says:

    I finally made this dish with my own little variations, and it was deeeeelicious! Thanks again :)

  23. jenyu says:

    Hanna – great! So glad it worked for ya!

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  25. Jean says:

    Hi Jen- I have been a “lurking” reader for a while…just wanted to say hello and thank you for all the wonderful recipes and gorgeous photos. My mom and grandmother cook wonderful Chinese food, but unfortunately I never took the time to learn. Now that I’m on my own, I’ve been craving homemade dishes like yuxiang eggplant, mapo tofu, dumplings and such almost constantly. I’ve been inspired to cook by your blog and have since shared your blog with many family and friends. Just made this recipe today and it was delicious, and I am currently mixing the filling for a batch of dumplings. Thanks again and take care : )

  26. jenyu says:

    Jean – that’s awesome! I am so glad that my own learning experience (rediscovering my culture through food) can help others like me :)

  27. Christina says:

    Hi there, love the pictures….was wondering what bean paste you used? THere are so many out there and don’t know what type. Thanks.

  28. jenyu says:

    Christina – I just checked my fridge… I think I used Lee Kum Kee’s black bean garlic sauce (paste). There are SOOO many kinds out there. I mean, I have about 4 different kinds in my fridge that my parents buy and leave with me. But pretty much any black bean paste, black bean garlic paste, or black bean chili paste should do. Good luck!

  29. Gala says:

    Jen, hope you are feeling better. Love your beautiful pictures. We once also had a problem with a bird crashing into our big living room window. We stopped it by attaching a picture of a big black predator bird inside the window in the upper corner. Not only the bird suffered, my kids were scared of the constant loud sounds. I don’t eat pork so can’t use your recipe. Was looking for a simple recipe with chinese eggplants. Be well! GaL

  30. jenyu says:

    Gala – thanks for the tip!

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  32. Leesa says:

    Best Fish-Flavoured Eggplant recipe I’ve ever made. As good as most Sichuan restaurants. Thanks for the tip about wilting the eggplant first – that worked perfectly. I don’t suppose you have a great recipe for Ants Climbing a Tree?

  33. jenyu says:

    Leesa – hmm, well – I don’t even know what Ants Climbing a Tree is. Sorry!

  34. Michelle says:

    Heya Jen…

    i’ve been a lurker for a while.. hope you don’t mind. “Yu Shian” actually means basil. so its not really fish flavoured.. but its an understandable mistake to make.. :) cheers. Great blog, btw!

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