A spicy Sichuan málà style sauce gets drizzled over smoky grilled eggplant. Serve this Sichuan eggplant with rice, or use it as a side or appetiser.
Inspiration – Cà tím nướng mỡ hành
Although eggplant is no stranger to Sichuan cuisine, the inspiration for this particular dish was a Vietnamese dish called cà tím nướng mỡ hành. Translated as grilled eggplant with green onion sauce, this is a delicious traditional Vietnamese dish. If you are interested in exploring it, check out this video from the wonderful Helen of Helen’s Recipes. Also, check out her Simply Pho cooking book, a valuable resource if you love cooking Vietnamese food.
Here in this Sichuan eggplant dish, we swap out the mỡ hành, the green onion sauce, for something with a very different flavour profile. This málà sauce, while indeed different, is just as delectable.
Grilled eggplant is a very versatile ingredient. Are you interested in exploring other ways of using this smoky delicacy? Check out this Laos inspired grilled eggplant dip with sticky rice. This Japan-inspired soba noodles with grilled eggplant is also a delicious diversion.
The Málà Experience
A málà sauce is both spicy from the chilli and numbing from the Sichuan peppercorns. Wikipedia informs us “The term málà is a combination of two Chinese characters: “numbing” (麻) and “spicy (picant)” (辣), referring to the feeling in the mouth after eating the sauce.”
My first experience of the málà sensation was at a Sichuan restaurant in Melbourne. I ordered a beef noodle dish with a “3 chilli” rating. “Are you sure?” they said. Rather than justify my choice with an explanation of where I have lived for the last couple of decades, a simple “yes” sufficed.
It was such a satisfying bowl of noodles. My lips were indeed numb. I did break a sweat. But I felt great. Taking the essence of this encounter and pouring it over smoky grilled eggplant resulted in this delicious and memorable Sichuan eggplant experience.
Sichuan Eggplant (Grilled Eggplant with a Málà Sauce)
- 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
- 6 cloves garlic crushed
- 100 g button mushrooms or a portobello would work well
- 6 spring onions reserve green parts for the garnish
- 2 Tbsp chilli bean paste Doubanjiang
- 1 Tbsp fermented black beans
- 1 Tbsp chilli flakes
- 2 tsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
- 2 tsp Chinese black vinegar or balsamic vinegar
- 3 tsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp ground Sichuan pepper
- 200 ml vegetable stock or chicken stock if not vegetarian
- 1/2 tsp cornstarch mixed with some water to form a slurry
- Diced green ends of the spring onions
- 600 g Japanese eggplants around 4 of the long thin variety
- 2 Tbsp Chilli oil
- 4 Tbsp crispy fried shallots
- Dice the spring onions, reserving the green parts for the garnish
- Dice the mushroom very finely.
- Stir fry the mushrooms and white parts of the spring onion in the oil until the mushrooms have stopped reducing in size (about 6-7 minutes). Set aside, keeping the oil in the pan.
- Stir fry the garlic and ginger in the same oil for a few minutes.
- Add the stir fried mushrooms, chilli flakes, chilli bean paste, and fermented black beans to the garlic and chilli. Cook for a few more minutes.
- Add the vegetable stock, Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry), and black vinegar (or balsamic), sugar, and soy sauce.
- Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.
- Add the ground Sichuan pepper.
- Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Dice up the greens of the spring onions.
- Add the spring onion greens and half the cornstarch paste and stir well until the soup starts to thicken a little (a couple of minutes). Add the rest of the cornstarch and cook for a little longer if the sauce is not thick enough. Remove from the heat.
- Poke the eggplants multiple times with a toothpick. This stops them exploding when being grilled.
- Char the eggplants on all sides over a grill. The skins should be blackened. Charing under a very hot broiler would also work. A real bbq, if you have one, grill adds a nice smokiness.
- Allow to cool a bit then peel off the skins.
- Lay on a serving plate then drag a fork through the eggplants length ways. This is to break them up a little so that the sauce coats more of the eggplant.
- Pour the sauce over the eggplants
- Top with fried shallots and chilli oil