Eggplant "Caviar" - Asian Style

Time: 1 hours plus chilling time      
Yield: 2 cups

1 to 1¼ lb. large eggplant (Italian or globe)
1     Tbsp. finely minced garlic
1     Tbsp. finely minced fresh ginger
¼   cup thinly sliced green and white scallion rings
¼ to ½ tsp. dried red pepper flakes
3    Tbsp. soy sauce
3    Tbsp. packed brown sugar
1     tsp. unseasoned rice vinegar
1    Tbsp. hot water
2    Tbsp. corn or peanut oil
½  tsp. sesame oil

Garlic Croutons (toasted bagette slices)
Thinly sliced green and white scallion rings for garnish

   1. Preheat oven to 475º. Move a rack into the middle position.

   2. Prick the eggplant well in several places with a fork or the tip of a sharp knife and remove the leaves. Bake on a baking sheet, turning once, until fork-tender, 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the size. Remove the eggplant and slit it lengthwise to speed the cooling.

   3. While still warm, remove the tough stem ends and the peels, scraping off and retrieving any pulp. Process with any thick baking juices in a food processor or blender until nearly smooth. (Eggplant differs enormously in water content. Some will leach nothing when baked, others leach a tasteless water, while some ooze a tasty liquor. It is only the latter that should be used.)

   4. Combine garlic, ginger, scallion rings and red pepper flakes in a small dish.

   5. Combine soy sauce, sugar, rice vinegar and water in another small bowl, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

   6. Heat a large heavy skillet over high heat until hot enough to evaporate a bead of water on contact. Add the 2 tablespoons of corn or peanut oil, swirl to glaze the pan, then reduce the heat to moderately high. When hot enough to foam a scallion ring, add the content of the first small bowl (garlic etc.) and stir-fry until fragrant, about 15 seconds, adjusting the heat so they sizzle without scorching. Add the sauce ingredients and stir until simmering. Then add the eggplant, stir well to blend, and heat through. Remove from the heat, then taste and adjust with a dash more of chile flakes, brown sugar, or vinegar if needed to achieve a zesty flavor. Stir in the sesame oil.

   7. Allow to cool, stirring occasionally. The flavor is fullest if the eggplant is refrigerated overnight, sealed airtight. Serve at room temperature, spooned onto the croutons and garnished with a sprinkling of scallion.

Adapted from China Moon Cookbook, Barbara Tropp