I was bewitched by MasterChef, utterly sucked into the hype, drama and ‘suspense’, watching it, talking about it, texting constantly with one of the LMFs through every episode, trying out the recipes, reading about the contestants and their post-MC ‘journeys’ (I know, gag and puke, the word is ruined forever). Not to over-dramatise (well, much), but it was hard to imagine a post-MC world here. What the hell would we find to watch every night? Then it finished. And strangely I don’t miss it. I have rediscovered the glory of channel 2 and now it’s hard to imagine how MC had such a power over me. I hate reality television. The constant repetition, the breathless voice-overs, the urgency of every staged altercation between contestant and contest, the presenters, the supposedly subtle product placement (so subtle that entire articles have been dedicated to its artistry) and the puffed-up self importance of the whole shebang. Jeez, they’re poaching an egg, not splitting the atom. The only upside to MC, as opposed to some of the other gems that have graced our screens, is that the product can live on beyond the show. Everyone needs to eat. No one really needs to run around in hot pants with 75 litre backpacks, shrieking at their partner and abusing foreign taxi drivers. At least not daily. This recipe lives on for us on a regular basis:
Kylie Kwong’s only-slightly-tampered-with Eggplant with Chilli Sauce
3 large eggplants (never stint on eggplant, it’s lush)
5 tablespoons of peanut oil
1/2 a bunch of coriander, leaves, stems and roots all finely sliced
3 spring onions, finely sliced
1 teaspoon of the sichuan pepper and salt
For the chilli sauce:
1/2 a cup of peanut oil
6 long red chillies, de-seeded and roughly chopped (KK keeps the seeds in, which is fine if you want to blow your head off and drink a litre of milk)
10 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
8cm piece of fresh ginger, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon of tamari soy sauce
For the sichuan pepper and salt:
1 tablespoon of sichuan peppercorns (don’t stress too much on the sichuan, we just use ordinary peppercorns and they’re still excellent)
3 tablespoons of sea salt (rocks or flakes)
Halve the eggplants and cut into irregular 5cm chunks. Spread over a couple of baking trays and sprinkle liberally with sea salt. Set aside for about an hour. Rinse well, drain and pat dry with paper towel. This process removes all the bitter juices from the eggplant. DO NOT SKIP THIS.
To prepare the pepper and salt, dry roast the peppercorns and salt flakes in a small pan until fragrant and the peppercorns are popping a little. Remove from the heat, cool, then grind up with a mortar and pestle. Set aside. You can keep the excess in an airtight container with your other herbs and spices.
To make the chilli sauce, heat the 1/2 cup of oil in your wok until shimmering slightly. Add the chilli, garlic and ginger, stirring constantly over medium heat for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue to stir for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir through the tamari.
Now for the eggplant: heat the 5 tablespoons of peanut oil in the wok until shimmering slightly. Add the eggplant and cook over high heat for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low and cook for a further 5-7 minutes, until tender.
Add the chilli sauce to the eggplant and stir together for about a minute. Toss over the coriander and spring onions, stirring to combine.
Transfer to a serving bowl/plate and sprinkle with the pepper/salt combination. Serve with steamed jasmine rice. This amount makes about 4 generous serves. Good for dinner or lunch. Reheats well. Spicy without burning and salty without overwhelming. Soft eggplant contrasts with the crunch of ginger and coriander root. Yum.