Eggplant — and More

From top left - qie zi (eggplant), vegetable noodles, tofu & sweet peppers, & tu dou, a potato dish--a typical on-campus Camphor Tree Restaurant meal

Yesterday after finally getting the grades for my 240 students  into the computer with the help of my students Ben and Mable and writing another end of the term report that was a surprise for all of us, Barry and I walked into town to pick up a few things before our Winter Festival trip to Bali.

When we finished shopping, we stopped at Gavin’s restaurant, a small, clean, well-lighted place of four tables and benches and plastic stools that has plastic vines hanging from the ceiling; it is next to the Lin’an Catholic Church. We had talked to Gavin when we had discovered the church, which is just off a main shopping street.  Gavin speaks good English, has been a cook for 20 years, and because he is Catholic, we thought we would go there to eat and to see if he could tell us about religion in China.

Dinner at Gavin's Lin'an, China, restaurant

We didn’t get much information about religion because Gavin  is the owner, cook, and waiter, and he was busy, but we did get a great meal.  He says he can cook Chinese or Western food, but when I told him I was vegetarian, he seemed a bit daunted.  However, he brought out four vegetables: cauliflower, cucumber, Chinese cabbage, and a green-stalked vegetable we didn’t recognize, to see if we wanted them. We said yes.  When Barry and I cook here, we get lots of fresh vegetables and after much chopping, stir-fry them all together.  However, Gavin added eggs, a little carrot, sweet peppers, and tofu, and in ten minutes delivered five different steaming hot, tasty dishes to our table: a feast to enjoy.

Dishes from left: cauliflower, Chinese cabbage with carrots, green-stalked vegetable and sweet peppers, Sichuan tofu, and scrambled eggs with cucumbers

While we ate, we enjoyed watching and listening to Gavin’s other customers.  One was a weather-worn, 40-ish, short guy who brought in a half-full bottle of Chinese alcohol.  He ordered a plate of fried fish as he does every Friday since he is Catholic.

There is no heat in this restaurant, and it was so cold that Barry and I practiced blowing smoke rings.  Just how can people do that?  But what we could see was that because Gavin is a nice guy and a great cook, many people come to hang out (one had just come from eating at a buffet and was still so full he could not sit down).  We think many gather to talk, laugh, drink and eat a bit and try to stay as warm as possible before they head home to their freezing dwellings.

We will be back to Gavin’s restaurant.  I want to ask him the religion questions.  Barry wants to watch him cook—and then perhaps try the dishes here in our apartment.  And we both want another great feast.  Oh yes, how much did five dishes and two bowls of rice cost?  Thirty-six yuan or about U.S. $5.00 total.  When you come to Lin’an, we will bring you here.  It’s our treat.

Eggplant or as the Chinese call it, “qié zi”

(Cultural note: “qié zi” is what the Chinese say, like our “cheese,” to get people to smile for pictures)

At home on Maui, Barry makes a wonderful eggplant parmesan, but I think most of us don’t know what else to do with this vegetable.   We’ve eaten a few great dishes here with eggplant, and when my cousin Elaine asked for recipes, I decided at least some of you could be interested too.

Yummy eggplant

Here are some other great ideas for qié zi.

This recipe is from my cousin–and great cook–Elaine Woodall from Springfield, Illinois

Eggplant & Sausage

– 1  large Eggplant…not peeled, chopped into chunks….

– Brown in oil in large skillet…..takes quite a bit of oil…remove when browned and

Add to skillet –

1 small onion chopped,

1 green pepper chopped,

1 basket of mushrooms, cleaned and sliced…

–    Add to skillet – 1 package of breakfast  link sausage. cut links in 1/2 ….and brown sausage and soften vegetables…

–   Add 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning and additional cumin to taste…and 2 garlic cloves.

– Add eggplant back to skillet and add large can of chopped tomatoes…or fresh if you have them….2 or 3….

– Cook with lid on until eggplant is soft…

– Then cover skillet top with shredded mozzarella cheese…put lid on and melt cheese….

Serves – 4 to 5

I serve this eggplant dish with a hearty bread and have a light dessert….Elaine


Here is another tasty use for eggplant from Patrick Holland, who had a B&B on the Ring of Kerry, Ireland, before coming to teach English (and of all things, tea culture) here at ZAFU.

Ratatouille Recipe

Ratatouille is a traditional French dish made of eggplants, tomatoes and zucchini. It’s often served as a side dish with lamb or other meats or poultry — even fish. It’s also a hearty meal served over rice or couscous. This version uses zucchini, yellow squash and toasted pine nuts.

Also check out this step-by-step tutorial, how to make ratatouille.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes


  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 large red onion, ½-inch dice
  • ½ cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1 medium eggplant, ½-inch dice
  • 2 large, ripe tomatoes (or one 14½ oz. can diced tomatoes)
  • 2 small zucchini, ½-inch dice
  • 2 small yellow squash, ½-inch
  • ½ cup chicken stock or broth (but see variation below)
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano leaves, or 1½ tsp. dried oregano (see variation below)


  • Heat a heavy bottomed sauté pan over medium heat for a minute, then add olive oil.
  • When the oil is hot, add the onion, garlic and pine nuts and sauté for 3 minutes or until the onion is slightly soft.

Add stock and eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until the eggplant is tender.

  • Add tomatoes, zucchini and yellow squash and cook for about 10 more minutes or until the zucchini and squash are tender but still firm to the bite and brightly colored.
  • Stir in the minced oregano leaves about a minute before cooking is finished.

Serve garnished with a sprig of fresh oregano.

Serves 4.



  • While this recipe calls for chicken stock (or broth), it can easily be prepared with vegetable stock instead, making it suitable for vegetarians or vegans.

Use 1½ tsp Herbes de Provence in place of the fresh oregano, and add them with the tomatoes, zucchini and yellow squash, not at the end of cooking. This also applies to dried oregano if substituting it for fresh.
There are many variations depending on your taste and whatever veggies are available. Patrick


Eggplant- Chinese style

This is the qié zi recipe that Barry and I  love here in Lin’an.

Sichuan Fried Eggplant

Serves 3-4


1 lb Eggplant [note they use the purple, thin, Japanese eggplants]

2 c Peanut oil; for deep-frying


1/4 c. All-purpose flour

2/3 c. Water

1/4 ts Salt


1 tb Peanut oil

3 tb Finely chopped scallions

1 tb Finely chopped fresh ginger

2 ts Chili bean sauce [This could be any kind of hot sauce.  Perhaps look in an Asian food market.  You could experiment to see how spicy you want it.  It’s a key ingredient, so see what works for you).

2/3 c Stock (chicken or vegetable)

2 tb Rice wine or dry sherry

1 tb Chinese black vinegar – Or – cider vinegar

3 tb Tomato paste

2 ts Sugar

2 tb Dark soy sauce

1 ts Cornstarch; mixed with

1 ts Water


Cut the eggplant into thin 1-1/2-inch by 3-inch slices.  Do not peel them.

For the batter mix the flour, water, and salt together in a small bowl, then strain through a fine sieve.  Let rest for about 20 minutes.

For the sauce, heat a wok or large frying-pan until hot and add the 1 tablespoon of oil.  Put in the scallions, ginger, and chili bean sauce and stir-fry for 30 seconds.  Then add the stock, rice wine, vinegar, tomato paste, sugar, and soy sauce and continue to cook for 1 minute.  Thicken the sauce with the blended cornstarch and cook another minute.  Set aside.

Heat the oil in a deep[fat fryer or large wok until quite hot.  Dip the slices of eggplant into the batter, let the excess batter drip off, then deep-fry.  You may have to do this in several batches.  Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain well on paper towels.

Arrange the eggplant slices on a serving platter, pour the sauce over them, serve, and enjoy.

Recipe taken from: <>.  Printed in China That’s Zhejiang magazine, November 2010 edition, page 28.

Especially now that I see how involved it is to make, I’m sure that while we are still here in China, we will just go across the street to our campus restaurant and get this tasty dish for about $2.00.  It is delicious.  If you try it, let me know what you think.

Here’s  another of my favorite dishes: Sichuan green beans “sì jì dòu.”  We order it almost every time we go out.  In our apartment, we’ve found that it’s great to add to soups or stir-fry to spice the dishes up.  See what you think.


Recipe: Sichuan Dry-Fried Green Beans

Dried-fried green beans is one of my favorite side dishes to order in Sichuan restaurants. In contrast to crisp haricot verts or mushy microwaved diner-style beans, Sichuan-style green beans are blistered and well-cooked without being bland. With Sichuan peppercorns and dried chillis adding spice and smokiness to the flavor profile, this dish becomes positively addictive.

However, no matter how many times I tried to recreate the dish at home, I ended up either burning the green beans before they got cooked, or dumping some water in order to save the beans, the latter which defeats the purpose of dry-frying. For help, I finally emailed Kian from Red Cook. He said that his method is using a ton of oil and constantly stirring the beans to get them cooked without burning. Almost like deep-frying. No wonder the green beans in restaurants taste so good.

My good-enough-for-publishing recipe in this post can be considered vegetarian, depending on whether you consider dried shrimp meat. (Or maybe I’m just turning incredibly Chinese: “Oh, you don’t eat meat? Don’t worry…it’s just chicken.”) Some versions use minced pork in addition to dried shrimp, and some avoid both. For dried shrimp, make sure to get the kind that’s bigger, pinkish, and more expensive, not the cheap itty bitty gray ones.

Sichuan preserved vegetable (mustard root pickled in salt and chillis) can usually be found in Chinatown supermarkets, in either cans or individual packages. Just rinse in cold water and finely chop for this dish.

Some recipes I found also eschew the dried red chills and Sichuan peppercorn, but I find the extra spice adds a needed smoky dimension to the final dish. I also use a little chilli bean sauce at the end to add a bit of moisture back in, although soy sauce also works well.

And remember to dry your green beans well before cooking. Nothing ruins an appetite like spotchy painful burn marks on your arms from splattering oil.


Other great Sichuan recipes:

Spicy Wok-Fried Chicken with Chili (Lazi jiding)

Sichuan-Style Snow Peas

Kung Pao Chicken

Dan Dan Mian (Spicy Sichuan Noodles)


Sichuan Dry-Fried Green Beans

Serves 2 to 4 as part of a multi-course meal

3 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
1/2 pound green beans – rinsed, dried, and chopped to 2-inch lengths
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pieces ginger, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Sichuan preserved vegetable (mustard root) – rinsed, shredded, and finely chopped
1/2 tablespoon dried shrimp, chopped
5 or 6 dried red chillis
1/2 tablespoon chilli bean sauce
1 to 2 drops sesame oii
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt, or salt to taste

Heat oil in a wok until just beginning to smoke. Add green beans and stir-fry, keeping the beans constantly moving, for about 5 minutes, or until the outsides begin to blister and the beans are wilted. Remove and set aside to drain on kitchen towels.

Remove all but 1 tablespoon of oil. Add garlic, ginger, preserved vegetable, dried shrimp, and red chillis; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Return beans to the wok, and add chilli bean sauce and sesame oil. Add sugar and stir until well-combined. Salt to taste. Dish out onto serving plate and serve while hot.

The “appetite for china” website seems like a great resource for recipes, so you may find other things you like too.  Happy cooking – and eating. Let me know what you try—and like. Aloha, Renee



About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

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