Saturday, May 30, 2015

Beat up some eggplant mud, baked a blitz torte

not a beauty, but confident
The Chowhounders who cooked from The Hakka Cookbook by Linda Lau Anusasananan back in January had a lot of nice things to say, but the word “bland” did pop up every few posts. The stir-fried chicken with cucumbers I made the other night was the blandest stir fry ever. About as bland as it sounds. This was perhaps the first time I've ever put a Chinese dish on the table and watched everyone reach for the salt. 

Happily, the mashed eggplant and spinach I served alongside was salty, zesty, and delicious. You boil wedges of eggplant until soft, then add spinach and boil for another 30 seconds. Drain. Dry the pot. Heat up a little oil and stir fry the vegetables with some garlic. Finish with a splash of fish sauce. From the recipe headnote: “Mashing releases the eggplant’s earthy essence and creamy texture. The soft pulp readily soaks up the robust spiciness of the garlic and chile. . . . The Ho sisters call this dish ‘Beaten Eggplant Mud.’”

I’ve become a fan of emojis when texting and my first impulse was to insert an emoji right after that last sentence. Do you think emojis will become an integral part of our written culture, like periods and question marks? I hope not, but why do I hope not? What's wrong with emojis? Didn't I just want to use one? Am I becoming an old crank who resists change?

Anyway, the beaten eggplant mud had wonderful, almost fatty quality that makes you think it must contain a gallon oil, which it doesn’t. I ate the leftover mud for lunch yesterday and it was even tastier than it had been the night before. As you can imagine, there was a lot left over. My family doesn’t do eggplant. 

At this point I should probably explain the meaning of the term “Hakka” for those of you who do not know. Until an hour ago, I was not 100% sure myself. I knew it denoted a Chinese subculture with a distinct cuisine because when I was a child some dear Chinese friends of my parents took us to a Hakka restaurant in San Francisco. My sister and I have extraordinarily vivid memories of a salt-baked chicken. 

Thirty-five years later, I can now tell you that the Hakka are a people who were driven out of their homeland in north central China many hundreds of years ago and drifted around the country as a lowly minority. Eventually, they fanned out over the rest of the globe, keeping their culture to some degree intact. Like the Jews, they are a diaspora people. Linda Lau Anusanananan has tried to capture the way their cuisine has adapted to different regions and ingredients, so there are Hakka recipes here that originate in various parts of China, Tahiti, Peru, Malaysia, and on and on. What are the defining characteristics of Hakka food? According to Anusanananan Hakka cooking is "strong flavored, salty, fatty." Lots of pork and soy sauce. Her brother describes Hakka food as "honest, earthy, and rustic -- the simple comforting soul food of the peasant."

I'm not going to take pictures of things like beaten eggplant mud. Sorry! I know how disappointing that must be. Fortunately, I baked a pretty blitz torte the other day and that is what you see in the photo at top. A few of you recommended blitz torte in the comments and so I baked one and loved it. You mix a golden butter cake batter with egg yolks and then you whip up a sugary meringue with the egg whites. Spread the meringue on the butter cake batter, sprinkle with sliced almonds and cinnamon, and bake all at once. The meringue was slightly crispy and crusty, but also light and soft, while the cake beneath was rich and dense. I sandwiched the layers with pastry cream, but I think whipped cream might work better. Or maybe pastry cream with some whipped cream folded in? Recipe is here. Really lovely dessert. Thank you.


  1. I just want to comment that I wish you posted something, anything, every day! I can't stand it when there is a long time between posts, so here is encouragement to keep after it!! (Imagine a thumbs up emogi.) You are the best writer. The BEST.

    1. I agree completely with Globug! Your posts are like a wonderful gift to your readers.

  2. I would never think to boil eggplant but that sounds superb. Especially as a meal for one. And I agree with Globug. Your writing is addictive.

  3. I'm so happy (and feel, somehow, personally gratified) that you enjoyed both the blitz torte and Mimi Pond's book. One of my favorite things about your blog, other than your writing of course -- oh yes, and the guest appearances by family members--, is the community of readers/commenters you've encouraged.

    That eggplant dish sounds great to me. At least one other person in the house would eat it with me, I bet. I'm going to have to investigate that cookbook. Bland Chinese food would, sadly, actually go over really well with the offspring, too, so that's not actually a negative for them.

  4. Aw, thank you very much. It makes me happy to get comments like these.

  5. The Finns call the blitz torte a Brita cake, no cinnamon though. They fill it with whipped cream and berries, so your instinct is correct. :)