One of the inadvertent joys of jetlag in Taipei is watching cooking shows in Chinese at 3am. Taiwan is a great country for foodies, and they have lots of cooking channels. They’re all in Chinese, but don’t let that stop you. Auntie Lili, Cousin Mei and Chef Zheng earnestly chatter away with great authority about the finer points of cuisine and method, but keep your eye on the ingredients and the wok and take notes.
Sometimes you can’t know what exactly that white powder is (cornstarch or white flour or bean flour? MSG or salt or sugar?) Make a guess and note amounts and order of cooking. Try to imagine what the combination will taste like. It sure looks good. Eventually, you will fall asleep, dreaming of good food.
One such jetlagged TV cooking lesson gave me this recipe, or rather this is what I inferred from it. To me, it tastes like Taiwan.
Taiwan Chicken and Eggplant
- Lots of chopped garlic
- 3 green onions, diagonally sliced
- the best parts of a cut-up chicken
- 1t coriander seed, bruised
- Chinese rice cooking wine*
- 2T sweet soy sauce or Kecap Manis Sedang*
- 1/4-1/2t Chinese 5-spice
- a small can of sliced bamboo shoots
- 2 long skinny Chinese/Japanese eggplants
- Saute the garlic and green onion in a bit of oil in a wok.
- Add the chicken pieces and stir awhile. They needn’t brown.
- Add the coriander seed, a goodly splash of rice wine and the thick soy sauce/kecap manis. Stir and glaze the chicken pieces.
- Add the 5-spice, bamboo shoots. Then more rice wine and thick soy sauce/kecap manis. Lastly, add the eggplant slices, since they cook fairly quickly.
- Turn heat down to low, cover and simmer till done. Check the salt.
This is a mild dish, but you could spark it up with some fresh or dried whole red chilies if you wanted. Some pea pods or Chinese mushrooms wouldn’t go amiss either. Garnish with sliced green onion or cilantro and serve with rice. A green salad goes with it nicely.
*Chinese cooking rice wine, also known as Shaohsing rice cooking wine, is a salted rice wine which is easily found at Asian grocery stores for a few dollars a bottle. You could substitute cooking sherry, but you’ll need more salt.
*Kecap Manis Sedang is Malaysian or Indonesian sweet soy sauce. If you can’t find either, use a bit of molasses with a bit of soy sauce.