As I recall, Szechuan or Sichuan cuisine didn't appear in Chinese restaurants in America until the 80s. Remember the Pu-pu platters (Teriyaki Beef, Chicken Fingers, egg rolls, etc) and drinks called Zombie and Mai Tai? They were popular items on the menu of suburban Polynesian-styled Chinese restaurants, and boy, were they hot in the 80s! Then came Joyce Chen, who single handedly changed the landscape of Chinese cuisine, elevating it to a more gourmet level.
For those who don't know, Joyce Chen is the Julia Child of Chinese cooking. She owned several Chinese restaurants in Cambridge, taught Chinese cooking, and had a show on PBS. In fact, she shared the same set as Julia Child's The French Chef in the studio of WGBH, Boston's local public TV station. Joyce Chen introduced not only Americans but also Chinese to Northern Chinese (or Mandarin) cuisine. My first experience eating Peking Duck and Moo Shu dishes served with pancakes was at Joyce Chen, a restaurant I also worked as a hostess during my college years. I absolutely love the dumplings (or Peking ravioli) and the hot and sour soup. Competitors took notice. Soon, other Asian cuisines appeared on the horizon. There were Hunan and Szechuan, followed by Vietnamese, Cambodian, and in the last dozen years Malaysian and now, Korean.
If you've been to a Chinese buffet, chances are you've had Szechuan food. Most dishes are cooked in a brown sauce, packed with spices or hot chili peppers. Kung Pao, General Tso's Chicken and spicy garlic eggplant are some popular Szechuan dishes.
I'm a fan of spicy food, so Szechuan food is right up my alley. I've made Sichuan eggplant (also called Eggplant with Spicy Garlic Sauce) a couple of times this week with the eggplants I picked from the garden. It's pretty simple when you use the ready-made spicy garlic sauce offered by Lee Kum Kee, the iconic Chinese sauce company, which you can find at any Asian grocery stores. Enjoy!
Sichuan Eggplant or Eggplant with Spicy Garlic Sauce (鱼香茄子)
This recipe is at the back of the packet of sauce.
12 oz eggplant, about 2 (cut into strips)
3 oz minced pork
1 pack Lee Kum Kee Sauce for Spicy Garlic Eggplant
1. Deep-fry eggplants in hot oil or cook in boiling water. Drain.
2. Stir-fry minced pork in 1 tbsp oil until done. Add Lee Kum Kee Sauce for Spicy Garlic Eggplant and eggplant. Stir well until heated through
Cook's Note: I use 3 Japanese eggplants, and I cooked them in boiling water for 5 minutes. I like it a tad spicier, so I added a Thai bird chili pepper.
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