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Szechuan-Style Eggplant with Ground Lamb and Chili-Bean Sauce

David Rosengarten
The Eggplant:
one 8-ounce Japanese eggplant (see INGREDIENT NOTES)

The Meat Mixture:
¼ lb. ground lamb
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
1 thin scallion, finely minced
½ tablespoon chili paste with garlic (see INGREDIENT NOTES)
½ tablespoon water
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
½ teaspoon hoisin sauce
½ teaspoon cornstarch
¼ teaspoon MSG

The Sauce:
¾ cup chili and bean sauce (see INGREDIENT NOTES)
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon shao hsing (or substitute dry sherry)
½ teaspoon MSG

The Cooking and Aromatics:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 fat scallions, minced (about 6 tablespoons, plus a little extra for garnish)
10 garlic cloves, minced (about 1/4 cup)
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
Instructions: 1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Prick eggplant with a fork about ten times. Place in oven, and roast until just tender--about 20 minutes. The skin should not be crunchy or dried out. Remove eggplant and let rest. After the eggplant is cool enough to handle, cut into 1/2" rounds (you should have about 12 pieces).

3. Prepare the meat mixture: in a mixing bowl, combine lamb, garlic, scallion, chili paste with garlic, water, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, cornstarch and MSG. Stir until well-blended. Reserve.

4. Prepare the sauce: in a mixing bowl, combine chili and bean sauce, water, shao hsing and MSG. Reserve.

5. To cook the dish, place the tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large wok over a medium flame. Add the scallions, garlic and ginger; stir-fry until the aromatics are softened, about 4 minutes. Push to one side. Turn heat to medium-high, and add the meat mixture in big clumps about the size of walnuts. Cook without stirring, until the clumps are "set" (about a minute), then turn them over to brown on the other side. While the second side is browning, top with the cooked aromatics. After one more minute, toss the lamb clumps together with the aromatics, and surround with the cut eggplant pieces. Cook for one minute, then toss all together. Add sauce and quickly toss until the lamb and eggplant are coated with sauce; 30 seconds later, spill out contents of wok onto serving platter. Top with minced scallion and serve immediately.

Serves four as part of a multi-course Chinese meal.

INGREDIENT NOTES *I created this recipe with a long, fairly narrow, bright purple Japanese eggplant; it was easy to cut it into 1/2" rounds after roasting. However, you can make the recipe with any type of eggplant. If using Black Beauty, for example (the classic supermarket eggplant), just use the same weight as called for above (8 ounces), and, after roasting, cut into chunks that approximate 1/2" rounds (roughly 1/2" thick, roughly 1/2" across the chunk).

*Jarred preparations of "chili paste with garlic" and "chili and bean sauce" are easy to find these days, even in supermarkets. Use Chinese ones for this recipe; I very much like the Lee Kum Kee products, made in Hong Kong.
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