The Circus Gardener's Kitchen

seasonal vegetarian recipes with a side helping of food politics

Szechuan-style mushrooms with aubergine

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Earlier this year the French government introduced legislation making it illegal for supermarkets to throw away food that had gone past its “sell by” date. Under the new law they must now donate unsold food to charities and food banks or face fines.

The Italian government recently announced that it is also planning legislation on supermarkets and food waste, although rather than impose fines the proposed law would provide tax incentives to food outlets that donate unsold food to charities.

Both of these developments are the culmination of a long campaign by consumer, anti-poverty and anti-food waste groups.

It would be good to see similar legislation introduced in the UK and other countries, although even here we are beginning to see some small but significant initiatives.

The supermarket chain Asda, for example,  has had some success with its “wonky veg” boxes initiative, whilst Waitrose has found customers more than happy to buy storm-damaged apples and misshapen tomatoes.

But let us not lose focus of the real problem.

Whilst supermarkets are absolutely central to the problem of food waste, only a small proportion of food waste created by supermarkets is actually generated within the supermarkets themselves.

Far more food is wasted between the supplier and the supermarket, where the latter’s ridiculously strict cosmetic standards mean that perfectly healthy food is regularly thrown away or left unpicked.

As a member of the Worcestershire Gleaning Network I have witnessed personally the sheer scale of waste these exacting standards produce. A visit to a fruit farm last year yielded several tonnes of beautiful, tasty apples that we were able to deliver to food banks, homeless shelters and other charities. These apples would otherwise not have been picked, simply because they had minor blemishes or were slightly the wrong colour, size or shape.

However, the worst offending area of supermarket-generated food waste is the one where we consumers have most control – ourselves. Around 40% of all supermarket food waste is food that we buy but then throw away at home.

Supermarkets make their money by shifting a lot of products in as short a space of time as possible. That is their business model, and they have long perfected the art of encouraging their customers to over-purchase – bombarding us with special offers, such as “buy three for the price of two” as we push our trolleys up and down the aisles. The end result is that we often buy and, eventually throw away, food we don’t really need.

Again, there are some positive developments in this area too. One UK supermarket chain, Tesco, recently responded to criticisms from consumer groups by ceasing its “buy one get one free” offers on bags of salad leaves. This was after the company’s own research had confirmed that a huge proportion of the additional “free” salad bags were not eaten by customers and eventually simply thrown out.

By far the biggest area of potential change, however, is completely within our powers: a change to our shopping habits, for example:

– refusing to be taken in by offers that encourage us to purchase food that we don’t need;

– buying fruit and vegetables loose rather than pre-packed (another way supermarkets get us to buy more than we need);

– shopping regularly, for a few days at a time, instead of doing a single large weekly shop, which is more likely to lead to purchases being thrown away at the end of the week;

– using a bit of common sense when interpreting “use by” and “sell by” dates. Forget the date: if it looks OK and smells OK then it’s OK (unless it’s a McDonald’s burger, such as this one  which seven years on still bears a  disturbingly close resemblance to how it must have looked on the day it was purchased);

– helping to lobby the big supermarkets about food waste, for example by signing this petition.

Small steps all, but they could make a big difference.

mushroomsaubergine growingszechuan-sauce-ingredientsspring onions

OK, away with the soap box and on with the stripey apron. Let’s get on with the recipe.

This is a dish with a distinctive rich, spicy hot flavour. It’s a wonderfully flavoured, comforting bowl of goodness on a cold evening.

The oil used in the cooking process is my version of ma-la, an essential element of much of Szechuan cooking. It’s key here in laying the incredible base flavours for this truly lovely dish, which is probably my favourite of all the recipes I’ve created to date.

Szechuan-style mushrooms with aubergine


1 large aubergine
400 g organic mushrooms (preferably a mixture – shiitake, oyster etc)
4 spring onions, including green parts, sliced diagonally
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red chilli, seeds in, finely chopped
2 cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped

for the oil

125 ml groundnut oil
2 star anise
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
1 tsp dried chillies
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

for the sauce

100 ml organic soy sauce
50 ml Chinese rice wine (use sake or dry sherry if not available)
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp cornflour

to garnish

1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 spring onion, white and green parts, finely sliced


1. Place a wok over a high heat. Add the oil and once it is hot enough to start shimmering add the star anise, the Szechuan peppercorns and the chilli flakes and stir to combine. Keep on a high heat for thirty seconds then remove from the heat. Sir in the sesame oil and leave to cool for a few minutes before straining the oil through a muslin cloth placed over a fine sieve. This makes a little more oil than you need for this recipe, but the rest can be kept in a sealed container. I guarantee you that you will want to use it again!

2. Whisk together the soy sauce, rice wine, maple syrup and cornflour, ensuring there are no lumps.

3. Clean the mushrooms and cut any large ones into 1cm thick slices. Cut the stalk off the aubergine. Slice the aubergine lengthways into quarters and cut across these quarters into 1 cm slices.

4. Clean the wok and place back over a high heat. Once it is hot pour in three tablespoons of the spiced oil. As soon as the oil begins to shimmer, add the aubergine and stir fry, stirring rapidly to prevent burning, for 4 minutes. Add another tablespoonful of the oil followed by the mushroom and stir fry for a further 4 minutes before adding the spring onion, garlic, chilli and ginger. Add a little more oil if necessary. Keep stirring and after a further 2 minutes add the sauce. It will bubble up rapidly. Give everything a final stir to combine then remove from the heat. Serve garnished with the toasted sesame seeds and sliced spring onion alongside some plain steamed rice.

Categories: dairy free, gluten free, vegan

Tags: , , ,

24 replies

  1. Yes! It’s about time this legislation was introduced. I hope it spreads far and wide across the world.
    Fabulous recipe. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you Persia x

  3. Great recipe! thanks for sharing:)

  4. Your soapbox always makes relevant reading 🙂 And such an encouraging review here: changing the world really does start on your own doorstep, all a question of attitude 🙂

  5. Recipe copied and pasted. Informative (as usual) post read with interest. Thanks for both.

  6. Here I am again, reading one of your lovely posts. This time I’m having a chocolate smoothie. It had ground almonds and it was so yummy and now I’m in the mood to go next door to the supermarket to get myself some fresh ingredients for a yummy dinner. I appreciate the meal suggestion, thank you.

  7. Excellent post. We cancelled our Costco (Australia) membership last year because whenever we were there we purchased things we simply didn’t need because they were stacked to the rafters and on special. How many pretzels can one person eat? We usually shop at small grower markets but that store had us in a dither. We were sucked in by the marketing.

    Thanks for a wonderful post and recipe.

  8. Love the sound of your recipe, yum! A little forward planning before shopping helps keep over purchasing in check. My Grandma who loved through two world wars and the great depression has been a huge influence in my housekeeping. Waste not, want not…

    • Thank you Sandra. I had a grandmother like that, who brought up five children on her own. She always had next to no money, but still made sure they were properly fed and clothed. She was an amazingly strong and resourceful woman. Steve

  9. Sounds delish- looking forward to trying it!

  10. The other day I was in Melbourne and there are a lot of homeless sleeping in doorways right in the CBD. I saw a young girl come out of a Chinese restuarant – she was obviously a member of the staff there – carrying five bags of food. She was being as subtle as she could be and she walked quietly to five of these homeless and placed one bag of food down next to them. She said not a word. She just gave them each something to eat. I was quite moved by it.
    Thanks for your post.

  11. Looks amazing, thanks for the recipe, it’s going on my to-do list !

  12. Food waste is rampant over here. In Texas in particular, I see VAST amounts of perfectly good produce tossed to the bin (gasp!!). I like to go on Mondays when — after the weekend — they mark down certain greens and fruits and stock my fridge for the week. I’m afraid that any legislation tempering food waste may be decades i the making in the US, so I do what I can in my own household. Enjoyed your post, though you may be preaching to the choir here….LOL

    PS – Your recipe card is ‘colored.’ I use the WP short code for my handful of recipes too, but how did you do that?

  13. Hi Shannon and thank you for taking the time to comment. Pressure from campaign groups here in the UK and elsewhere in Europe is slowly starting to draw attention to the food waste problem, although as I explained in the post, some supermarkets have taken action without being required to do so through legislation, so I think consumer pressure is key.

    I set the background colour (in this case, #bbdd77) at the start of the recipe box, using the “div style” function.



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