Crispy Szechuan salt and pepper eggplant is an easy Chinese vegetarian dish for any night of the week. These purple orbs can be a tricky vegetable to cook but a little salt can transform it from being soggy and bitter to absolutely wonderful. The key is to generously season the eggplant with salt prior to cooking to extract the excess moisture and tame their natural bitter flavor. Make sure you use a heavy hand when doing this and allow the eggplant to sit anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes, the time largely depends on the size of the cuts. Rinse the salted eggplant under cold water and press them between a kitchen towel so that they do not become water logged. This technique helps produce perfectly tender eggplant every time.
Szechuan Salt and Pepper Eggplant
3 medium sized eggplants
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/8 cup All-purpose flour
vegetable oil, for frying
1 tbsp kosher salt, plus more for salting
1 tsp whole Szechuan peppercorns
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Step 1: Slice the eggplant into 2 inch wedges. Sprinkle generously with salt and place in a colander in the sink. Allow to sit for 45 minutes to an hour. This technique draws out the excess moisture and tames the eggplant's natural bitterness. Rinse the eggplant under cold water to remove the salt and pat dry with a paper towel.
Step 2: Meanwhile, heat a small skillet over medium heat and toast the Szechuan peppercorns until fragrant. Remove from heat and let cool. Once cooled, finely grind the peppercorns in a spice mill or coffee grinder (used exclusively for spices and not coffee) and combine with ground black pepper and salt.
Step 3: In a large skillet (preferably with high sides), fill the pan with vegetable oil until it reaches about 1 inch up the sides. Heat the oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Step 4: In a bowl, combine cornstarch and flour and dredge the eggplant, shaking off any excess. Fry the eggplant until crispy and soft, about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain on paper towel lined plate. Immediately toss in salt and pepper mixture. Serve hot.