Brinjal Salad by Yang Zhao. (Recipe below)
Brinjal Salad by Yang Zhao. (Recipe below)
Image: Yang Zhao

People have strong feelings about the brinjal, also known as the eggplant. This past week, I ran a casual survey on my social media platform, asking followers how they feel about it. The answers ranged from “I feel nothing about it, like the way it tastes”, “it tastes like a meaty air of nothing”, to “the eggplant is sexy, especially eaten as a salad on the beach on a hot summer’s day”, “love it roasted or in a curry or stew”.  This “mad apple”, its direct translation from its Italian name “melanzana”, has been a dinner table controversy for centuries worldwide.

I love the congeniality of the brinjal because it lends itself to any cuisine, cooking method or style. It can soak up just about any flavour the chef intends to create. Some enjoy it for its heaviness, or as a meat substitute, while others do not, disliking its bitterness. However, not all eggplants are bitter.

I particularly enjoy its vibrant varieties in flavour and cultivars, especially the beautiful shades of purple hue it comes in. Growing up, when we did not have an appetite, grandma would make this ultra-fragrant brinjal dish drenched in a garlic sauce. It was a dish that was known to accompany plenty of bowls of rice — grandma’s trick to fill us up so no-one woke up in the night from hunger.

Towards the end of the process of making the brinjal salad.
Towards the end of the process of making the brinjal salad.
Image: Yang Zhao

There are plenty techniques involved in prepping brinjals: for the Chinese cook, pre-steaming is a must. But one must first soak the brinjal in water and white vinegar to retain the skin’s vibrance after cooking. Vinegar also helps to enhance the sweetness in the fruit.

This brinjal salad is inspired by the Sichuan flavour profile, with chili flakes, Sichuan pepper powder, garlic, spring onion and hot oil as the dressing. It makes a savory yet subtly spicy side salad that can accompany any great meat dishes. It is also aesthetically beautiful.

RECIPE: Brinjal Salad (Serves 2)

Brinjal Salad.
Brinjal Salad.
Image: Yang Zhao

Ingredients:

  • Two medium sized brinjals sliced into 5cm strips, soaked in two cups of water and one teaspoon of white vinegar, and then set aside before steaming.
  • 1 tsp Sichuan pepper powder
  • 1 tsp chili flakes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 TBSP finely chopped garlic
  • 1 TBSP chopped spring onion
  • 2 TBSP of peanut oil or canola oil if you prefer.

Method

  1. Remove brinjal from the water and vinegar mix, put it into a steamer on high heat and steam for five minutes
  2. Remove from the steamer, let the brinjal cool and then tear into thin strips.
  3. Add Sichuan pepper powder, chili flakes, salt, garlic and spring onion.
  4. In a small saucepan, heat up the oil until smoking point, then pour the hot oil onto the brinjal and spices
  5. Toss and serve.
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