For my final installment of #HellaRice, I’m paying homage to one of my biggest sources of culinary awe: dim sum. It’s almost impossible to recreate the small plate experience at home, but it can inspire larger versions that are familiar and delicious. These are the meals that I have cooked for my family at home to the best of my ability during the past five years—recreated in recipe form. We already ate it and for the most part, enjoyed it. I hope you will too.
Before the pandemic messed with our weekly allotment of dim sum, Sunday mornings were reserved for a meal in Chinatown–International District with my wife and son. We’d arrive a bit early to put our names on the list at Harbor City or Jade Garden and get our little one excited by going over all the different dishes he can eat.
Normally, I love the laissez-faire approach to dim sum. My wife usually acts as ordering captain (since she knows how to order in Cantonese) and chooses our family favorites from the steam carts bearing towers of bamboo baskets: shrimp dumplings, chicken feet, sparerib tips, and stuffed tofu skins. I, however, wait patiently for the fried food cart and ask for taro puffs, turnip cakes, fried pork footballs, and my pick as the best sleeper dim sum item, the stuffed eggplant.
The eggplant is packed with a mixture of shrimp and ground pork, then fried until golden. And then steamed in a rich sauce that makes you want to slurp the small bowl nested within the bamboo basket without worrying if anyone is watching. It’s soooo good with chili oil. All those steps may seem unnecessary, but cooking the eggplant twice creates a meaty texture that feels totally “chefs special” ($8+) when it’s really a “small” ($2–3) on your bill.
We’ve made a larger version at home for dinner and it holds up as a main dish. It also has instilled a huge appreciation for all the work and prep that goes into each bite. The ingredient list might sound daunting, but I guarantee it’ll reinforce your growing pantry for future Chinese dishes. Think of this dish as a project—a gateway into making dumplings, without actually folding all those wrappers. I add dungeness crab to the stuffing for this dinner version for a more pronounced seafood flavor and slide some tofu skin in too. This bulks the dish up a lil’, but mostly we do it because we dig the texture. Enjoy.
Stuffed Eggplant and Tofu Skin
Active Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 ½ hours
Serves: 3 adults and a kiddo
- 4 Chinese/Japanese eggplants (long and thin instead of the thick rounder Italian versions)
- ½ lb ground pork
- ¼ lb shrimp, shelled, deveined, and minced into a paste
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, minced
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp salt
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 3 pieces scallion greens, sliced thin
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- ¼ cup picked dungeness crab (totally optional)
- 1 qt neutral oil like canola, peanut, or rice bran
- 2 sheets of tofu skin rolls, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes, drained and cut into three-inch pieces (I got mine from Uwajimaya next to the dried shiitakes.)
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 6 pieces scallion whites, cut into 2” long
- 2 tbsp garlic, minced
- 1 splash (2 tsp) Shaoxing wine
- 1 tbsp dark
- mushroom soy
- 1 TBSP light soy
- 1 TBSP salt
- ½ tbsp white pepper
- ½ tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- ½ cup chicken stock (or water)
- 3 pieces scallion greens, thinly sliced
- Chili crisp (I like Lao Gan Ma.)
1. Okay. Here we go. Slice eggplants diagonally into pieces one-and-a-half–inches thick. Carefully make a horizontal cut in the middle of each piece of eggplant (skin side, not cut side) to create a “pocket” for the filling. The cut should go about three-fourths of the way in.
2. Mix ground pork, shrimp, egg, ginger, soy sauce, salt, sugar, white pepper, sesame oil, scallions, and cornstarch in a bowl with a spoon until it turns into a paste. You can use a food processor as well, but I like the chunkier texture. Gently fold in crab so it keeps its integrity.
3. Taste test your filling—making a big batch of food only to realize it’s bland is THE WORST. Fry a tablespoon of the stuffing in a pan and see if it’s delicious. Adjust seasoning accordingly. Repeat until you’re happy.
4. Stuff filling into each eggplant slice; use a small spoon to insert as much as you can without breaking the pocket. You can make a quick scramble with the leftover filling with a touch of sriracha the next morning.
5. Fill a wok or pot with neutral oil and heat to 375 degrees. Work in batches and deep fry the stuffed eggplant until the shrimp mixture is golden brown, about seven minutes. Place on a baking rack to drain excess oil. Season with a touch of kosher salt. You can strain this oil through a coffee filter and use it again for future seafood applications like fish and chips or shrimp tempura.
6. Once the eggplant has drained its excess oil, arrange the dish for steaming. Working from the inside out, cover the bottom of a shallow heat-proof bowl with the eggplant in a layer of slightly overlapping rings. Put bowl into a steamer. Stick a probe thermometer in the thickest part of the stuffing and pull from the steamer when mixture hits 160. Drain the liquid that pools at the bottom of the bowl as it may make your dish greasy. (You can skip this entire step as long as you fry the eggplant until a safe temperature.)
7. Dissolve the cornstarch in chicken stock (or water). While the eggplant is steaming, add a tablespoon of oil to a wok over medium-high heat and add your scallions and garlic for 30 seconds to get your oil fragrant. Add a touch of Shaoxing wine along the edges so the alcohol evaporates. Add the drained tofu skin, dark mushroom soy, light soy, salt, white pepper, sugar, and oyster sauce. Toss. Add cornstarch mixture and bring to a boil again to let the sauce thicken. Add eggplant, toss twice, and serve on a pretty platter.
8. Hit it with scallions. Serve with hella rice and Chinese chili crisp everyone orders from all over Instagram even though every Asian grocer in town sells the really good stuff with an old lady on the front.