There’s something so fun about seeing where someone grew up. Like the first time I visited B2 in Hawaii — I mean, it’s pretty crazy to see what it’s like to grow up in a place like Hawaii to begin with, but I got overly sentimental seeing his old elementary school classrooms, the Banyan tree he used to climb during recess, the route he ran through Manoa for cross-country, his high school late-night hangout spots (you know, just places like this beach, no big deal.) As well as you know a person, it just feels like there’s a little something extra that falls into place when you know where they came from, too.
That first trip, B2 took me to a little Japanese-Italian fusion restaurant in Honolulu called Pietro’s, because it was a place he frequented in high school. So it’s entirely possible that my glowing impression of it was just a product of my rose-colored “oh my gosh this is the fabric of his existence” sentimentality, but I don’t think so — fusion can be a tricky thing to pull off, and that place knew how to play it. My favorite dish of theirs was a spicy spaghetti with ground beef, chilies and delicate Japanese eggplant — good, simple, un-fussy pasta with just a little Japanese touch.
I was hoping we’d get a little group of our friends together before the wedding this summer to revisit Pietro’s (you know, in the off-chance anyone is as sentimental about old haunts as I am) but to our chagrin, they closed this past August and are looking for a new location at the moment. (We found this out pretty unceremoniously when we rushed up to Pietro’s all jazzed last September and found a little “CLOSED” sign taped to the glass.) So sad! I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they reopen soon, but until then, this eggplant dish is my tribute to their homey, comforting food. This version isn’t Japanese, but Chinese — it’s prepared the way my mother taught me, pungent from a dose of Chinese black vinegar, a little spicy from a dollop of chili garlic sauce, couched in the Asian trinity of scallions, ginger, and (you guessed it) garlic, and rounded out with a touch of sugar, soy sauce, and savory ground pork.
Instead of rice, I served this over egg noodles for a springy, pleasant bite. The folks at No Yolks were kind enough to send me a few packages of their yolk-less egg noodles to try, and I thought they were wonderful — totally indiscernible from (if not better than) regular egg noodles, but a nice, cholesterol-light change from the ten-yolk beast I turned out a few months back. I made my first noodle kugel ever with it the other day and couldn’t stop scarfing it out of the pan. Of course, this is really no more than a traditional Chinese eggplant in garlic sauce (though my mom would note that it’s obviously the best Chinese eggplant, since it’s her recipe), just served over your carb of choice, so feel free to go with rice if you’re feeling traditional, or any other starch you have on hand — I like this a lot with spaghetti, too. Either way, it’s a warming, nourishing kind of dish for a chilly February, and a kind of nostalgic food that reminds me of my mom and where I came from, but a little bit of where B2 came from, too.
My mother likes to make a special garlic-infused vinegar for this dish. The instructions are below, but if you don't manage to infuse it beforehand, the dish will be tasty either way.
- 1/2 lb ground pork
- 3-4 green onions, chopped (divided)
- 3-4 tbsp soy sauce (divided)
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine (or sake)
- 1 lb eggplant (2 medium Chinese eggplants or 1 American eggplant)
- oil for frying
- 7-8 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 tsp finely minced ginger
- 2-3 tsp chili garlic sauce, to taste
- 2 tbsp Chinese or balsamic vinegar (or garlic-infused vinegar, instructions below)
- 1 tbsp of sugar, to taste
- 1/2 to 1 tsp salt, to taste
- 1/8 tsp black pepper
- 1/8 tsp white pepper
- 1/2 cup water
- about 8-12 oz No Yolks extra broad noodles
- Do ahead: If you'd like to use garlic-infused vinegar, just combine 1/4 cup vinegar with 4-5 crushed garlic cloves in a small 4-ounce jar, seal, and let sit. Two weeks is optimal, though you can certainly use it earlier if you like. You'll only use a few tablespoons in this dish, but the vinegar preserves the garlic and will keep for up to two months, so you'll have plenty of time to use it (and you can make way more, if you like!)
- Combine ground pork, about 2 tbsp of the chopped green onions, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil, and 1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine in a small bowl and mix until well-combined. Let marinate for 15-30 minutes. Meanwhile, slice eggplant into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
- Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large wok over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic, ginger and remaining green onion. Stirfry for 10 seconds, then add the ground pork and chili garlic sauce.
- When pork is fully cooked, add the eggplant and stir for a minute to mix everything together. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, salt, and both ground peppers, and stirfry for a few minutes more. Add the water. Once it boils, turn down the heat to medium-low, then cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the eggplant is fork-tender.
- Meanwhile, prepare the noodles according to package instructions. When done, divide evenly between four bowls. When eggplant is ready, divide evenly over noodles and serve immediately.
As written, this is gently spicy -- for more heat, add more chili garlic sauce, substitute a spicier red chili paste, or add a generous shake of crushed red chili flakes.
Compensation for this post was provided by New World Pasta via AOL Media. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of New World Pasta or AOL.