Friday, 6 August 2010

Szechuan peppered aubergine with chinese mushrooms and cashews

Dried Chinese mushrooms are one of the ingredients that mystify most of my friends. I have to admit that they aren't immediately appealing; wrinkly and a bit dusty looking, they're not an easy sell. But they are worth persevering with.

They're great in a whole host of noodle soups and stir frys, adding a deep, meaty note with a hefty whack of umami. But however you have them, be sure to soak them first! Without this crucial first step they will remain tooth-breakingly woody and inedible even after cooking. Not nice.

If you don't have arrowroot you can substitute corn flour instead, but the sauce will be cloudy instead of clear. To make this dish vegetarian, just leave out the oyster sauce.

Serves 2

1 cup basmati rice
1 medium aubergine, cut into 1 inch cubes
8 or so spring onions
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
a piece of ginger the size of a 50p piece, finely chopped
a couple of handfuls of dried mushrooms
80g raw unsalted cashew nuts
1 tsp ground szechuan pepper
½ tsp ground black
½ tsp salt

for the sauce ~

3 tsp ground arrowroot
1 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tsp soy sauce

1) An hour or two before you plan to start cooking, soak the mushrooms in 2 cups of water. Better still, do it the night before.

2) Steam the aubergine for 5 minutes, then set aside. Meanwhile, wash the rice in a saucepan then add 2½ cups of water, bring to the boil, then turn down to the lowest flame and leave until cooked (about 10 minutes).

3) Finely slice the green parts of the spring onion, and chop the white ends into 2-3 inch batons.

4) Remove the mushrooms from the water, but do not throw away the soaking liquid - this is used in the sauce later. Cut the stalks from the mushrooms and discard. If the mushrooms are larger than bite sized, chop them in half.

5) Mix the sauce ingredients together with half of the soaking water.

6) Now fry the cashews over a low/medium heat with a little vegetable oil until golden brown. Remove from the frying pan and drain on kitchen paper.

7) Turn the heat up and add the white spring onion, fry for a minute, then add the mushrooms, aubergines and mushrooms. Fry for a further 3 minutes, turning frequently, then add the garlic, ginger, peppers and salt and fry for a minute more.

8) Add the sauce, stirring as you do. The sauce will probably be too thick; if so, add more of the mushroom water. Take care to avoid any grit at the bottom of the bowl. Cook for another 2 minutes, stir in the cashews and add the green spring onions. Fluff up the rice with a fork and serve.

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