Monday, July 20, 2015

Szechuan Eggplant

It is not your regular Chinese food. Flavors of this Szechuan Eggplant are so complex like nothing else you picked up at your local Chinese carry-out spot around the corner. It's totally worth the trip to Asian market to find some special ingredients you will need to cook this unique dish.

Blog's Category: International, Vegetarian


Sweet-&-sour chicken, shrimp lo mien, general tso...Aren't you tired of all the same choices at all Chinese food places you ever visited, despite you are a big fan of Chinese food? If yes, it's about time to cook something interesting, something that you are never going to be served with at your local Asian restaurants. I'm suggesting Szechuan Eggplant. 

The recipe calls for a couple of ingredients you probably are not going to find on your shelf, but the recipe worth a trip to Asian market if you are lucky to have one around.

Most likely those ingredients would be broad bean paste and szechuan pepper. Below, in a picture section, you will find pictures and buying tips for this ingredients and some more detailed visual information regarding this dish.

What is it?

Szechuan Eggplant is pretty easy to cook. Whole process consist of 4 short steps - 
1) ingredient preparation such as washing, slicing, chopping
2) searing of eggplant 
3) sauce preparation
4) quick sauteing eggplant in a sauce 

Taste Description

As I said before, flavors are very complex, you may find your taste buds experiencing taste they never experienced before. Some additional layers of taste could be described as sweet-and-savory, tender-pinchy, weirdly-numbing, gently-spicy. Did I intrigue you enough to start cooking?

How to Serve/Store

It's best to serve it slightly warm or at room temperature. It is a great side dish to a grilled meat, or, if you are vegetarian as me, you will like it served on a top of plain warm rice. My genes are also forced me to consume it with a nice piece of fresh country bread with a side of thinly sliced parmesan. If you think it's weird combo - try it yourself :)
Szechuan Eggplant will keep in a fridge for about 4-5 days.

Szechuan Eggplant 

  • 3 Japanese eggplants
  • bunch (about 5-6) green onion
  • garlic cloves, minced or grated
  • 1 " fresh ginger, grated
  • 3 tbs soy sauce
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 3-5 tbs sesame oil
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • 1 tbs broad bean paste
  • 1 tsp black bean paste (optional)
  • 1 tsp dry szechuan pepper
  • 1 tbs corn starch, mixed with 1/2 cup of tap water
  • 1 cup of water

- Cut each eggplant across into 3 pieces, then slice each piece along into 4 thick sticks.
- Chop green onion into large 2" pieces.
- Toast szechuan pepper on a medium heat, in a skillet, without oil, shaking, until it starts to give away light aroma. It will take a minute or two. Take off heat, cool down and smash into coarse powder in a mortar. Or place on a chopping board, cover with a plastic wrap and crush with a pin. Do not skip this step, because szechuan pepper is not activated until it's crushed and/or smashed..

- On a frying pan, on a medium heat, add sesame oil and cook eggplant pieces, trying to get all sides of each piece browned up. Transfer eggplant to a plate.

- On a same skillet, add a little more sesame oil, and start stir fry white part of green onion for a couple of minutes. Then add green parts of onion, garlic, ginger, szechuan pepper, broad bean paste and stir fry on a medium low for 2 more minutes. 
- Add one cup of water, soy sauce, sugar, black bean paste, red pepper flakes (if using). Stir to combine.

- Add eggplants and cook on a medium low shaking, or gently stirring, trying not to smash eggplants too much, for about 3 minutes or until eggplants are cooked through. Then add corn starch mixed with water and cook for 2 more minutes until sauce is not milky anymore from starch mix. Taste, add sugar or salt if needed. Done!

- Serve and enjoy!



Szechuan pepper is such an interesting ingredient. It's tiny and looks like a split-up red peppercorn. If you start to chew on it, you won't feel usual pepper heat, but rather strange, tingling, numbing feel to your tongue and lips. You can find this pepper in any asian grocery store in a small see-through plastic bags (I like to keep my spices at home in a small plastic containers, that's why you see it on my picture like this).

Always cool spice down before smashing them. After toasting, while cooling down spices, nuts become harder and crunchier, which makes them easier to crack.

This is broad bean paste. You will see a lot of different soy bean pastes in Chinese store, look for a paste in a small jar which explicitly tells "broad" bean paste/sauce. Below is a picture of this jar with info in English.

To make life easier, I threw all eggplant pieces on a preheated, oiled pan and let it fry without disturbing for 2-3 minutes, then shaked pan to flip all together and then "helped" those stubborn pieces which didn't obey to turn over using fork.

This broad bean paste looks so beautiful. Later, eating it, I especially enjoyed those few beans from a sauce. I wish it would be more of them. This gives me idea to add some soy beans to this dish next time.

This is small amount of black bean paste. It's optional. It didn't add much to a flavor, but I like that it makes sauce color deeper...

Crushed szechuan pepper goes in..

..water is added to create sauce.

Pre-cooked eggplants in...

Starch/water mix thickens a sauce.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Tarragon Pesto

If you have tarragon in your garden, this recipe is for you. You will need a lot of tarragon leaves to make this unbelievably delicious pesto. Do i have to even mention it's drop-dead healthy? 

Blog's Category: Hors D'oeuvre, International, My Own Fast and Easy, Vegetarian


Tarragon, or estragon, is not awfully popular here, in US. It's well known, although, in Europe. For those from Eastern Europe and from Kavkaz region, it may be known as tarkhun, herb widely used as spice herb as well as base for flavorful drink named by this herb "Tarkhun". I remember bottles of this everybody's favorite bright-green carbonated pop from my childhood.

In my home cooking "career", I discovered tarragon not that long ago and fall in love with it right away. It resulted in a big pot sitting on a deck with a thriving tarragon plant.

Recently, idea of making pesto with my tarragon come to my mind. I'm so pleased with what I've got that I have to share it with you immediately!

What is it?

It's pretty much basic pesto - herb, olive oil, parmesan-like cheese and nuts, finely minced in a blender not into easily spreadable paste but rather into coarse and crumbly topping.  As nuts I used almonds for this pesto.

Taste Description

Of course, sweet and tangy tarragon flavor dominates here. Shy one garlic clove addition runs a long way giving savory note to this sweetness. Toasted almond brings texture, substance and subtle delicious almond flavor. Cheese taste lays somewhere on a back there, helping to fuse those wonderful flavors all together. 

How to Serve/Store

It's a million ways to serve it - as topping on pasta, grains, salad, toast, even soups. We enjoyed it on a toasts, as filling for roll-ups and as topping for mashed potato.

Tarragon Pesto 

  • about 3 - 4 cups of tarragon leaves (just leaves, do not use woody stems)
  • 2 cups raw whole almonds
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • about 5 oz asiago cheese (2"x4"x2" piece) , cut into pieces
  • salt, black pepper to taste

- Toast whole almonds on a dry skillet on a medium-low heat, constantly shaking, until they are change meat color from white to light-gold. Transfer to a plate to cool down.

- Using kitchen processor, process all ingredients into coarse mix. Keep in a closed container in a fridge for up to 4 weeks.

- Serve and enjoy!



This tarragon plant survived this year's mean winter and surprised me with a mature branches. I didn't even protected pot from a freeze... This is how it looks after severe "haircut" I made to him for this pesto recipe. Actually half of the leaves I blended with olive oil only and poured into ice cube tray. Then I throw cubes into zip-bag and keep in a freezer. I like to use my herbs this way, it's so convenient.

That's a lot of tarragon...

It took me about 15 minutes to strip leaves from a woody stems.. Piece of cake... Simultaneously watching morning news...

All tarragon on a bottom..

Wheeze...minute or two. Done!

Now, week later - just memories that left...

..very yummy as topping on a toasted rye bread, with tomato slice or piece of asiago. 

To make roll, use thin flour tortilla (I used armenian lavash), spread it with a very thin layer of mayo or ketchup, then evenly distribute pesto and roll tightly.

..wrap in a foil and keep in a fridge until ready to serve. To serve, cut with a sharp knife into pinwheels and enjoy!