Strange-Flavor Eggplant Dip

Have you ever purchased a cookbook and then never made more than a recipe or two from it?

I have.

There's no really good reason for it. It certainly seems to be a fantastic cookbook, no doubt about it, but for some reason, I've never fully explored it, not even sitting down and reading through it the way I do with many others; I've only read bits and pieces throughout. While I liked what I saw, I still haven't sat down with it.

But one recipe in particular caught my eye that day in the bookstore. I've made it several times; in fact, the way I find it is just to open the book, the spine is cracked on the start of the recipe because I've opened it to there so many times.

The book in question is The China Moon Cookbook by Barbara Tropp. The recipe? Strange-Flavor Eggplant Dip.

In a way, it was the title that grabbed me. Strange-Flavor? Now that I have to try. I thought. But just what is a strange flavor? Perhaps I should let her explain.

It turns out that in some of the more golden eras of Chinese history, the character for "strange" meant a positive-sounding "elusive" or "ineffable," as in a wonderful combination of flavors that can't be pulled apart." ... "[It's] a classic name for a series of Chinese dishes that typically employ a mixture of vinegar, sugar and chili..." -- Barbara Tropp
This dip is spicy, sweet and tart. It's easy to make and satisfying. I don't make it often because I'm liable to take my bowl of dip, a bunch of chopped up pita triangles and eat the entire bowl all by myself. (Although, considering one eggplant is little more than 100 calories, the dip is not so much the problem as the pita!) It is best the next day at room temperature, once the flavors have a chance to blend.

Strange-Flavor Eggplant Dip [printable recipe]

From The China Moon Cookbook

  • 1 to 1 3/4 pounds eggplant
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil


  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 1/4 cup minced green onion
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red chile flakes


  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp hot water

Preheat oven to 475F.

Remove the leaves from the eggplant and prick in several places. Bake, turning once, until fork-tender, 20 - 40 minutes depending on size. Remove and slit lengthwise to speed cooling.

While still warm, remove the stem end and peel, scraping off the pulp and reserving. Process in a food processor until nearly smooth. Combine aromatics in a dish, combine sauce in a small bowl.

In a large skillet over med-high heat, add oil and swirl to coat. Stirfry aromatics until fragrant, 15 seconds. Add sauce and simmer. Add eggplant, stir well to blend and heat through.

Remove from heat, taste and adjust chile flakes, sugar or vinegar to achieve a zesty flavor. Stir in sesame oil. Refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to meld. Serve at room temperature.