Monday, July 6, 2009

The Eggplant Saga: Age of Aubergine

Archaeologists and historians seem keenly interested in what we used to eat thousands of years ago. It is because of this curiosity that they have been able to unlock the secrets as to when and where plants were domesticated, when they first came to an area, and just what those people thought about it at the time. In part 1 of the Eggplant Saga we learned that the aubergine's origin story begins in India some 4000 years ago. Of course, this was only the beginning of the eggplant's long and arduous journey to my dinner plate. Where did it's journey take it? We'll find out in...

Part 2: Age of Aubergine

The eggplant soon found its way to ancient China. An article published in the Annals of Botany in 2008 states that the earliest documentation of eggplant in Chinese literature was in 59B.C., though it is thought to have arrived in China much earlier. As the article suggests, the ancient Chinese took great care in selectively breeding eggplants to develop new cultivars, preferring smaller and more slender varieties, giving rise to today's "Chinese eggplant". It is also said to have been a favourite food of the emperors, and it is no surprise why.

As well as being delicious and pleasing to look at, at only 27 calories per cup, the aubergine boasts an array of vitamins and minerals. Moreover, eggplants pack a potent anti-oxidant punch. The World's Healthiest Foods reveals that one such antioxidant, nasunin, is found in the skin and has been shown to protect brain cell membranes from free radical damage, making eggplant the perfect food for an egghead like me!

One of my favourite Chinese dishes I've ever had was "eggplant in black bean sauce" from a little Chinese restaurant down the road from my
apartment that was not known for its imaginative titles. It was garlicky and sweet, and I had never had eggplant quite like it before. Since then I had always meant to try it. As luck would have it, I picked up some Chinese black bean sauce (aka "douchi") at the store last week shortly before becoming endowed with a bounty of eggplant. It was culinary destiny!

Factoid: Black bean sauce is made by fermenting soy beans, the process turns the originally pale beans black. It is not actually made with "black beans".

This dish boasts a few health perks. Black bean sauce has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat many things such as restlessness, poor sleep patterns, fever, and congestion. Tamari has more antioxidant power than red wine. Entire books have been written on the health benefits of garlic. And so I bring you...

Radically Good Eggplant

1 medium eggplant, sliced thin (~1/2 cm thick)
2 tbsp black bean sauce
1 tbsp low sodium tamari
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cornstarch
1/4 cup water

Saute the eggplant over medium heat until soft.
Combine all other ingredients together in a bowl and add to softened eggplant. Simmer until sauce reduces and thickens. Serve over rice.
This dish tasted almost exactly like how I remember it. It is, however, rather salty, as black bean sauce is quite salty on its own. If you're trying to avoid salt, I suggest using less black bean sauce. It's not the most attractive looking dish in the world, but damn is it good.

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