One of the first impressions I had of Dali in Yunnan Province was the freshness and variety of vegetables and produce. Local restaurants competed for customers with colorful displays of all of the seasonal produce on offer. Some establishments would have up to 20 varieties of mushrooms, others would focus on green vegetables and herbs, and so on. This variety extended into the street food. Perhaps the best meal I had was at a small sidewalk cafe that cooked everything over a charcoal grill. This dish is my own interpretation. I was trying to capture the smoky silkiness of the grilled eggplant they had to offer.
Recipe for Dali Grilled Eggplant with Chili Bean Sauce
3-4 small eggplants or Japanese eggplants ( You can also use large Italian eggplant, though they tend to be a bit more bitter)
1 cup raw peanuts
1-2 Tbsp cooking oil
2-3 Tbsp Sichuan Chili Bean paste
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1. Prick the eggplants with a fork or skewer to allow steam to escape as they cook. Grill whole eggplant on medium heat. I like to use a charcoal grill with the lid closed. Grill until the skins turn a mahogany brown. The skin should start wrinkling. The aim here is for the inside of the eggplant to be fully cooked and soft.
2. While eggplant is grilling, heat the oil in a wok or frying pan over medium high heat. Once hot, add the raw peanuts and lightly toast. Be sure to keep a close eye on the nuts as they easily burn, adjusting the heat as necessary. I usually agitate the pan to insure the nuts move and are evenly browned. Once they start emitting a toasted aroma, remove them from heat. At this point, I usually remove them from the pan to stop them from browning further.
3. Remove the eggplant from the grill and split them down the center. Smear each half with chili bean paste to taste. Check to see how salty your paste is. If necessary, drizzle a little bit of soy over the top.
4. Top the eggplants with cilantro, green onions, and peanuts and serve while still hot.
It couldn’t be simpler!