Food and Drink

When dreary days leave you in need of a lift, try a quick-fried eggplant with mushrooms

There’s something deeply satisfying about an umami-rich gathering of vegetables coated with punchy garlic and ginger, especially on another cold day when the spirits could use some lifting.

Enter this quick-fried eggplant to spoon onto toast or to serve as a side with fish or meat. For a more substantial vegetarian version, add in some cubed tofu or a handful of other favorite vegetables, like bok choy, asparagus, cabbage, celery, perhaps some olives or cherry tomatoes, but considering doubling the sauce. As for the eggplant, the question is often: To salt or not to salt? Most varieties today are not as bitter as their predecessors, so salting is not necessary. However, eggplant are heavy drinkers, and salting before frying in oil — no need to salt if grilling or baking — yields a creamy, silky texture. Seek out Japanese eggplant, which are long and slim, compared to the more common purple globe, which can be substituted here in a pinch.

Cooking this dish works best in a wide, shallow pan, like a wok or a large heavy-bottomed skillet that’s well-seasoned and can stand up to high heat. Enjoy hot out of the pan or at room temp with steamed rice or grilled bread. Leftovers are equally delicious, chilled, right out of the fridge, perhaps with some goat cheese or tossed into hot pasta.

Eggplant with mushroom, ginger and garlic

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 1/2 pounds (about 3) firm, shiny purple Japanese eggplant

8 to 10 ounces mushrooms, such as cremini, shiitake, king trumpet, thick-sliced or quartered

2 to 3 cloves garlic

1 (2-inch) piece ginger (about 2 tablespoons), peeled and thinly sliced or grated

3 green onions, trimmed, halved lengthwise and cut into thirds

1 small jalapeño or serrano chile, stemmed and thinly sliced

1/3 cup rice vinegar or balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon sugar

3 tablespoons grapeseed, canola, or avocado oil

2 to 3 tablespoons fresh chopped herbs such as cilantro or basil or mint

Serving suggestions: hot rice; pasta; grilled bread; yogurt mixed with grated garlic and cucumber; warm fresh hummus; harissa or other hot sauce

Remove and discard stems from eggplant. Cut down the center lengthwise, cut each half lengthwise, then cut crosswise into thirds to make equal-sized strips; the thicker ends might need to be cut into more slices. Place eggplant in a large colander and set in sink; sprinkle evenly with salt; toss; and let sit to drain 20 to 30 minutes while preparing the remaining ingredients. Lightly rinse eggplant of salt and pat thoroughly dry between paper towels or clean kitchen towels; set aside.

Trim stems from mushrooms and cut caps into quarters or thick slices and place in a bowl; if using celery or bok choy, etc., add to mushrooms. In a separate bowl, add sliced garlic. Cut ginger into thin slices, stack slices and cut into thin strips or grate and add to garlic. Cut green onions lengthwise and into third crosswise; add to ginger and garlic. Slice jalapeño and add to bowl with ginger, garlic, and green onion. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, soy sauce, cornstarch, and sugar.

Heat oil in a wok or heavy, wide shallow skillet set over medium-high heat. If needed, cook in batches. Add eggplant and mushrooms and sauté, stirring/tossing quickly every few minutes, until eggplant and mushrooms begin to soften and turn golden, about seven to nine minutes. Add ginger, garlic, green onion, and jalapeño and cook about one minute. Add soy sauce-vinegar mixture and toss with eggplant and mushrooms to coat. Add up to a 1/2 cup water or broth if mixture is a little dry. Bring to a low boil and let cook and thicken another five minutes or so. Taste and adjust seasoning, as needed. Toss in fresh herbs and serve with hot rice, grilled bread, pasta, or as a side to fish or meat. Serve, if desired, with hot sauce, a side of garlic-yogurt, or over a plate of warm hummus.

Kim Sunée

Kim Sunée is a bestselling author ("Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home," "A Mouthful of Stars," "Everyday Korean: Fresh, Modern Recipes for Home Cooks") and a former magazine food editor. She's based in Anchorage. For more food and travel, visit instagram.com/kimsunee.

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