Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Chino Caponata

Do you find eggplant a challenging veggie to cook? I do.

It took me a long time to find an eggplant recipe I really loved. This one fits the bill! Sometimes I even find myself craving the rich smoky flavor. It's from The Occasional Vegetarian by Karen Lee, a cookbook I have consistently found I can count on when I need something interesting to do with a certain vegetable. If only it had pictures too!

I promised this recipe to a friend a week or so ago and then forgot to send it. So, I'll share it here with a recommendation for this excellent cookbook! She also gives menu suggestions including this and her other recipes.

Chino Caponata
Karen says: "My Chino Caponata has been evolving for twenty years. It began as a Chinese eggplant with garlic sauce, took on the influence of a French ratatouille, and I finally named it Chino Caponata when it acquired Italian overtones. Lusty and unbelievably versatile, I use it as an appetizer with Toast Rounds (page 47), as a side dish, a part of a buffet, and as a topping for pasta.
This recipe can easily be doubled, but be sure to fry the eggplant in two batches to ensure proper charring - the secret to its intense, smoky taste."

Yields 3 1/4 cups; serves 8-12 as an hors d'oeuvre or as part of an antipasto, 6 as a side dish [I serve it as a main dish with brown rice, in which case it serves 4]

Preparation time: 40 minutes, plus 1 hour to let the eggplant rest after salting; Cooking time: 10 minutes
1 medium eggplant (approx 1 pound)
1 teaspoon salt
Seasoning Sauce:
- 1/2 cup tomato sauce, preferably homemade
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or other vinegar -- your choice
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons medium-dry sherry
- 1 teaspoon chili oil
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon peanut oil
1 cup chopped Spanish onion
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, roasted
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon small capers, drained

1. Trim off the ends of the eggplant and discard. Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch cubes. Toss with the salt and set aside for 1 hour.

2. Rinse the eggplant cubes under running water. Let them drain in a colander for 10 minutes; blot well between paper towels.

3. Prepare the seasoning sauce by combining the tomato sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, sherry, and chili oil. Set aside.

4. Place a 12-inch wok or iron skillet over high heat until it smokes, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons of the peanut oil. Immediately add the eggplant cubes. Stir every couple of minutes and press down repeatedly on the eggplant with the back of a spatula to aid scorching. Cook for approximately 5 minutes over high heat until the eggplant is soft and well-charred. Remove the eggplant from the pan.

5. Return the wok to a high heat and add the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil. Add the onion and fry, stirring frequently, until it begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and stir-fry for 1 minute more. Add the charred eggplant and seasoning sauce and stir until the sauce has been absorbed, about 1 minute. Add the roasted pepper, oregano, and capers and stir for a few seconds before removing from the heat. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Can be prepared up to 5 days in advance. Keep refrigerated. Return to room
temperature before serving.


  1. I'm going to try it! It sounds delicious. Thanks for posting!

  2. What is Spanish onion? Do I need peanut oil? Do you think it adds flavor? I don't do well with peanut products. Looks yummy. I know it vegetarian but I might add ground beef to make it an entree.

  3. I think a Spanish onion is just a red onion. I use one if I have it but a yellow onion does fine.

    I should have mentioned it, but I don't use peanut oil (just because I don't keep it). The point of the peanut oil is just the high smoke point, and canola oil has been fine for me.

    I leave it as vegetarian for an entree, but it could be good with meat added - the sauce recipe makes plenty of sauce to add something else.

    If you make it, let me know what you think!!