Chef Deyen brought back 20 live hairy crabs from my hometown Shanghai, and knowing that I’m from there she invited me to enjoy the crabs with her. I thought we were just going to get a few friends together in one of our apartments and eat the steamed crabs with minced ginger and vinegar. That’s often what I do when I go back to Shanghai during crab season. It’s always casual — everyone digging in with their hands, smacking their lips and licking their fingers as they eat. I told her that I would bring a dish or two just in case someone didn’t like hairy crabs. A much coveted delicacy for people like me, hairy crab is not everyone’s cup of tea.
When I arrived at the appointed apartment, I was surprised to see that the dinner table had been exquisitely laid out with white table cloth, purple orchids and placemats made of leaves. Our head chef Collin and Deyen were busy cooking an elaborate dinner. My first reaction was that I should just hide the eggplant and fried rice dishes I cooked. No one needed to know I brought them. But in the end, our chefs convinced me to serve the eggplant, and kindly complemented my cooking.
This was by far the most sumptuous and memorable dinner that I have had since we began filming Marco Polo. The food was absolutely delicious, and the company was the best kind — people who truly love food and eat with great joy, gusto and bravado. In my opinion our first time hairy crab eaters could out eat any Shanghainese men who have grown up on hairy crabs. We pigged out like there was no tomorrow.
At work today, one of the ADs came to take lunch orders from the actors as she usually does. When she saw me, she simply said, “Deyen suggested the avocado quinoa salad for you.” I almost laughed. Deyen knew what I ate last night.
Now, about the eggplant that I cooked. It’s a dish rooted in my Shanghainese (sweet) upbringing and Szechuanese (spicy) ancestry. I have cooked it quite often in the past. At home, I usually steam the eggplant or microwave it in a sealed container to soften it. Then I stir fry the garlic, chili, ginger, red onion and tomatoes until aromatic. Then the cooked eggplant is added into the wok and mixed with the other ingredients. But this time, I fried the eggplant. It is more flavorful and the dish looks prettier.
Spicy Sweet and Sour Asian Eggplant
3 long Asian eggplants
5 cloves garlic, pressed
2 green chili peppers
4 red Thai chili peppers
4 slices peeled ginger
3 small Thai red onions or 1/2 small red onion
6 – 8 cherry tomatoes
Oil for frying
Ingredients for sauce:
2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoon brown sugar
Cut eggplant into 2 inch sections and then quarter them into wedges.
You can either leave the chilis whole or cut them in half lengthwise. I halved 1 red chili and 1 green chili and discarded the seeds, and I left the rest chili peppers whole.
In the pan or wok, fry eggplant wedges in batches on medium heat. I did it in 3 batches. Let fried eggplant dry on 2 layers of paper towel in a plate.
Use the oil left over from the frying to stir fry the garlic, chili peppers, ginger, onion and cherry tomatoes until aromatic and soft. If you have too much oil left in the pan, discard all but 1 tablespoon for the stir fry.
Pour the sauce into the wok, and add the fried eggplant back. Toss to coat and let cook for about 2 minutes. Serve hot.