Three cup aubergines

Three cup aubergines

Just before Christmas, a friend asked me for this recipe, and I realised I’d never actually posted it.

This was a bit of a surprise, as it’s something I’ve been making for years. I had to send him the draft, and it was, let’s say, a little rough…

I’ve tidied it up now.

So, what exactly is “three cup aubergines”? It looks pretty questionable if you try to express it in emoji, but it’s just a veggie take on a Chinese classic: Three Cup Chicken.

I don’t think there’s a recipe in Every Grain of Rice– which has become my go-to for Chinese food – but that Serious Eats one is decent, and it’s pretty simple in any case.

The three cups in question are, historically, one each of soy, rice wine, and sesame oil, all cooked down to a sticky sauce. Although if you actually use three cups of each you’ll need to serve it with a generous side of blood pressure meds.

Both the aubergine and chicken versions are quick to make, succulent, and incredibly comforting served with a bowl of rice and some simple greens.

Ingredients:

  • Aubergines, 2 (about 400g)
  • Onions, 3 small
  • Garlic, 6 cloves
  • Ginger, 15g
  • Soy sauce (light), 60ml
  • Shaoxing (rice wine), 100ml
  • Sesame oil, 50ml
  • Chili, to taste
  • Sugar, 2tsp
  • Dried (fermented) black soy beans, 1tbsp (optional but recommended)

This is what I make to generously serve 2 people, or as part of a set of multiple dishes for 4-6.

Shaoxing is pretty easy to come by these days, and supermarkets will often have it, albeit overpriced. If you can’t get it, there’s always sake or dry sherry.

The dried beans are a bit more niche. I bought a giant tub in a Chinese supermarket years ago. They last forever.

Instructions:

Great with some simple steamed leaves

Cut the onions into big chunks, maybe quarters. Treat the aubergines similarly – nice big chunks.

Finely slice the garlic, ginger, and chilis if you’re using them. Rinse the dried black beans.

In a pan at a medium heat, fry the onions for ten minutes or so, stirring, until they soften a bit. Add the garlic and ginger (and chili), and cook for a minute or two, stirring, until nicely aromatic.

Raise the heat slightly, and add the aubergines. Fry until they soften and begin to colour – maybe 5 mins, probably a bit more.

Add the remaining ingredients, stir it all together, and simmer on a gentle heat for about 15 mins, until most of the liquid is gone, and the aubergines are soft and sticky.

Serve with rice and some greens. I like fried lettuce with white pepper, or just some steamed pak choi.

You can also finish this in the oven, rather than simmering on the hob. This is handy if you’re making a lot of things and need the hob back. As tends to happen when I cook Chinese, and the boyfriend insistently tells me four dishes would be ‘unlucky’. Apparently, accusations of cultural insensitivity are a pretty good way to get me to make you an extra dish of fried chicken on the side…

The sauce cooks down with the sugar to become thick and unctuous, and yes, the aubergines do go a bit soggy, but it all works together beautifully, with the little dotting of black beans adding an umami punch at the end.

Left to my own devices, I double the garlic and add enough chili to incapacitate a hippo. What you do with this knowledge is between you and your conscience.

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