I visited one of the roadside fruit and vegetable stands along the highway on my way back from the Okanagan and picked up a bag of new potatoes and a large eggplant for a couple dollars. I wasn’t sure what I was going to be making but I had an idea: it was moussaka.
Now, I hadn’t made moussaka in years but used to make it often when I used to live back at my parents’ house. Layers of creamy eggplant, tender potatoes, roasted zucchini, zesty tomato, creamy béchamel, meat sauce and cheese. What’s not to love? However, when the time came, I just wasn’t feeling for it. It’s a lot of work to make it and I would rather make that in the winter time when I am feeling for comfort food everyday. Instead, I tried something new: di san xian.
It’s so interesting when you think you know a cuisine and are surprised when you find new recipes and research that challenges those ideas. For example, potatoes in Chinese cooking. For me, it’s uncommon. But perhaps that’s because I’m used to more Cantonese, Shanghainese and Sichuan cuisines. In northern China, however, potatoes are indeed a commonality. Di san xian is a dish that originates from Shandong that features eggplant, potato and green peppers. Each vegetable is fried until crispy and served in an umami-laden sauce and served with rice.
The recipe is relatively easy. The only time consuming part would be to fry up each vegetable separately. It doesn’t take that more time but it ensures that the vegetables get some nice colour and texture. Because everything is stir-fried, the recipe does come together quite quickly once all the vegetables are cooked.
The result? So good! Actually, total comfort food to an extent. My house smelt like a Chinese restaurant after – so legit. Would definitely make this dish in a heartbeat. And it also just happens to be vegan – who knew?
DI SAN XIAN – serves 4 – 6
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 extra large eggplant, diced and salted
1 lb new potatoes, washed and sliced into half moons
1 green pepper, diced
8 garlic cloves, minced
4 scallions, sliced
1/3 cup Shaoxing wine
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup water
¼ tsp white pepper
2 heaping tbsp cornstarch
Freshly ground black pepper
toasted sesame seeds
Dice a large eggplant, place in a colander, and season liberally with salt. Let the eggplant sweat to draw the excess moisture out and set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
In a small bowl, combine the Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, water, white pepper and cornstarch together and whisk together. Set aside.
In a large wok, heat 1/3 cup of vegetable oil over medium-high heat until hot. Fry the potatoes until crispy and browned, atleast 3 minutes on each side. Remove from pan and set aside.
Next, fry up the green peppers until it receives some colour, about 2 minutes. Remove when cooked and set aside.
Rinse off the salt and moisture off of the eggplant. Dry, and add to the wok. Fry up for about 3 minutes. When cooked, add the rest of the ingredients to the wok. Add the sauce and stir from the bottom to ensure all of the vegetables are cooked. Add in the garlic and scallions and fry up for a few more minutes. Remove from heat and garnish with toasted sesame seeds and extra scallions.