Reading Molly Wizenberg’s Orangette gets me to make a lot of things that I would never ordinarily consider making. Her writing is downright enchanting, and the woman could make a sauteed shoe sound good. And I know, I know, everyone already knows and loves her blog – But I especially like browsing the archives of the site and finding fantastic recipes from before the days of Pinterest, from before everyone just tried to make the latest one-pot, low-cal, gluten-free, “tastes just like cake I swear!” recipes that are infinitely able to go viral and garner hits. Molly’s site has always focused on 1) great writing, and 2) great recipes. And really, that’s why I trust the recipes she posts, and when she says a granola is deeply toasty, nearly “shatters” when eaten, verges on savory, yet still has a fair glug of maple syrup running through it… I make that granola. Even though I’ve never made granola before, and didn’t think I even really liked most granolas. Those days, my friend, are over.
When you hear the name “fish fragrant eggplant,” what do you think of?
I think of fish, certainly – probably some sort of fish-sauce or dried-fish laced eggplant dish. This is why I’ve chosen to call this recipe here “spicy szechuan eggplant.” The original name is indeed “fish fragrant eggplant,” even though it contains no fish, no fish sauce, no fish-related anything.
It turns out the only reason it is called “fish fragrant” is because this delicious, tangy and spicy sauce was often used for cooking fish and seafood. Here, it is draped generously over lightly fried eggplant. I don’t have a thermometer or any sort of deep, heavy cooking vessel, so I shy away from deep frying, and for those of you like me, pan-frying will do the trick. But however you cook your eggplant, the star of the dish is really the sauce; it is so flavorful with so little effort. I think the reason for this is the two heavy-hitter ingredients that you may need to find at your local Asian grocer: chinkiang vinegar and chinese chili bean sauce. I have them pictured below so you can have an idea of what to look for.
A bit of a confession to make: for the past year or so, I haven’t really cooked. Okay, I have – but certainly not nearly as much as I like to. First there was my possibly slightly unwise decision to move into a shared group house where the only available cooking appliances for six (yep) housemates was a small, portable 2-burner cooktop and a toaster oven. Then, the other small detail of enrolling in a 1-year, slightly accelerated Master’s program that took up all of my weekends and often, my weeknights until 9pm, had its way with my schedule from August to May. Then there was the finding-a-job, then the getting-a-job (for which I am certainly grateful), then moving again (more on that soon). As I’m not much one to fight over cooking space nor one to ignore the call of weeks full of exams or job applications, I didn’t cook very much. In fact, I never even unpacked nearly all of my boxes labeled “kitchen stuff” while living in the big six-person house in the first place.
Which brings us to today: I’m now in my new (as of 2 weeks ago) apartment, and housemate-free – except for my boyfriend, who I’d never mind sharing a kitchen with. Also inside is a real, bona-fide stove and oven (gasp!) and unearthed from the boxes they’ve hidden in the past year are my pans, pots, towels, spices – and sundry other kitchen necessities such as the Alli-Grator (a gift from my brother and homage to my name). I can’t tell you how good this feels, just the simple fact of having a space to do some boring ol’ cooking in.
The new apartment is wonderful, yet for my nagging food photography habit, it needs a little help. The windows all look out onto a Japanese-inspired garden filled with green trees, plants, shrubs, and even rushing waterfalls whose sound fills the space whenever the windows are open. These plants are gorgeous. I love them. And as someone from the desert, I can’t imagine a better view. But their abundance also means a lot of sunlight is blocked from the windows. Surely come winter, the leaves will have turned gold, red, brown and then fallen off, hopefully leaving a little more room for light to stream in; regardless I think I will need to finally invest in some good artificial lighting if I ever want to take a semi-decent photo in here. I plan on doing so very soon, as I’ve already been cooking whenever my heart desires: I made this chicken piccata again, and these “scone-like” cookies (though I now think they do need a little salt), to name a couple. And even though there was a time I swore I’d never even use it, my Pinterest has been a flurry of activity as I bookmark all the recipes I want to make in the coming months.
All this to say that my blogging bug is definitely not gone, and my cooking one is only stronger now that I, well, have the resources to cook. And I hope in the coming months I can share more here from this (newer) kitchen, once I get an artifical light or two and a few great recipes to share.