It was simply a matter of needing to eat the eggplant and summer squash that had grown in our summer garden. We wanted to eat it. We just didn't know how to get around to it. We were a little tired of homegrown summer vegetables.
But it was food! Don't waste food.
I came up with this idea of a Chinese-style wokked eggplant. It was Cranky's idea to add the pattypans.
But. How? You cannot make up Chinese cooking if you don't know what you're doing.
I consulted several reliable books, most of which veered far from what I wanted: slightly sweet, savory, gooey.
Wow. All of a sudden, Barbara Tropp to the rescue. This imaginitive, intuitive cook who totally understood Chinese food (but was an American through and through — and spoke Chinese), could create genuine recipes, although they often had a modern, California twist.
Reading her eggplant recipe both freed me to experiment, and taught me to adhere to tradition.
We came up with a melange of vegetables (shiitakes in there, too), tossed with a mix of aromatics (garlic, ginger and chopped rehydrated dried shrimp) and a sauce (soy, water, balsamic vinegar, some sweetener... agave? eep... and a sloodge of the solids from the bottom of the jar of chile oil).
This is all wokked in order. I know I broke the rules, but the sauce came last. The vegetables were fresh, crisp, gardenny. The chopped shrimp added a delicious, meaty chewiness. The other flavors — well, you know. Yums. Sprinkle with chopped scallions. Serve with rice.
I am emboldened now to try "Chinese" without a cookbook. Could be a total disaster.
But if you knew how many times Cranky has nuzzled me today because of this meal... Eee!