Szechwan Eggplant Dip with Pita Crisps

1/4 cup vegetable oil
a 1 1/4-pound eggplant, roasted, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 6 cups)
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 cup broth
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger-root
2 to 3 teaspoons szechwan chili paste*, or to taste
1 teaspoon hoisin sauce*
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar*
3 scallions, sliced thin
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon firmly packed light brown sugar
1 red bell pepper, minced
1 teaspoon oriental sesame oil, or to taste
white pita and whole-wheat pita crisps, as an accompaniment
Pita Crisps
10 (5 inch to 6 inch) pita pockets
3/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons paprika
kosher salt, to taste

*Available at Oriental markets, specialty foods shops, and some supermarkets.

Roasting the Eggplant; On a gas or preferably charcoal barbecue, roast the whole eggplant evenly on all sides until the skin is charred or the eggplant is soft. Set aside and let cool. Peel off charred skin, or scoop out the soft insides of the eggplant and dice into 1/2 inch cubes.

In a small bowl dissolve the cornstarch in the broth. To the wok add the garlic, the gingerroot, the chili paste, the hoisin sauce, the vinegar, and the Sherry and stir-fry the mixture for 30 seconds. Add the scallions and stir-fry the mixture for 30 seconds. Add the soy sauce, the brown sugar, the cornstarch mixture, stirred, the bell pepper, and the eggplant and stir-fry the mixture for 1 minute, or until the eggplant has absorbed most of the liquid. Remove the wok from the heat, add the sesame oil and salt and pepper to taste, and toss the mixture well. The eggplant mixture may be made 1 day in advance and kept covered and chilled. Transfer the eggplant mixture to a bowl and serve it with the pita wedges.
Makes about 4 cups

Pita Crisps
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Using a sharp knife, halve the pitas horizontally. Stir together the olive oil and paprika. Brush the rough sides of the pitas with the paprika oil and season with salt.

Cut each pita into 8 wedges and bake in single layers on a large baking sheet in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes or until crisp. Cool and serve. Note: the pita crisps can be made up to 2 days ahead of time and stored in sealable plastic bags at room temperature.

Yield: about 13 dozen crisps

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