Red Chamber Eggplant

This is the dish that Lin Daiyu eats on her first day at Rongguo Mansion in chapter 4 of The Red Chamber. The recipe is based on one that appears in chapter 41 of Dream of the Red Chamber, but I have modified it slightly for modern cooks. Curiously, a different eggplant recipe appears in some other early editions of the novel, involving cutting the eggplant into hair-like strips, and then alternately steaming them over chicken stock and drying them in the sun ten times; but I thought this recipe was more feasible for home cooks.

1 1/2 pounds eggplant

3 Tbs. vegetable oil

6 large black shiitake mushrooms

4 ounces white or oyster mushrooms

4 ounces frozen bamboo shoots, defrosted

4 ounces five-spice tofu-kan

2 Tbs. pine nuts

2 Tbs. cashew halves

3 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 tsp. sesame oil

2 Tbs. rice wine, separated

1 tsp. salt, or to taste

1. Soak shiitake mushrooms in ½ cup warm water until soft. Cut off stems and slice thin.

2. Peel eggplant and cut away seedy middle portions, leaving shells about ½ inch thick. Cut into shreds, about 1/4 inch wide and 1 1/2 inches long. Sprinkle with ½ tsp. salt, mix well, and place in colander. Let sit for about 20 minutes.

3. Cut white or oyster mushrooms into thin slices. Cut bamboo shoots and tofu-kan into matchsticks. Cut chicken into ½ inch cubes. Marinate in 1 Tbs. rice wine with 1/4 tsp. salt added.

4. Squeeze excess liquid from eggplant. Heat 1 Tbs. of vegetable oil over high heat in a wok or frying pan and stir-fry eggplant until golden brown. Remove from pan.

5. Add 1 Tbs. vegetable oil to pan. Stir-fry chicken until almost cooked through. Remove from pan. Stir fry white or oyster mushrooms until they have released most of their liquid. Remove from pan.

6. Add last 1 Tbs. of vegetable oil to pan. Stir fry shiitake mushrooms, bamboo, and tofu-kan. Add eggplant, white or oyster mushrooms, and chicken. Add remaining 1 Tbs. rice wine and sesame oil and salt to taste. Add pine nuts and cashews, and serve.