The Circus Gardener's Kitchen

seasonal vegetarian recipes with a side helping of food politics

crispy aubergine with a hot, sweet and sour sauce

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Today marks Earth Overshoot Day, the day in the calendar when humankind has used up the equivalent of a whole year’s worth of the Earth’s natural resources.

When I began writing this blog five years ago, Earth Overshoot day fell on 20 August. Each year since then it has moved to an earlier date in the calendar, marking our continued failure to live a sustainable existence on this planet.

The good news is that the rate at which the date has moved is declining. The bad news is that as of today we are using up the resource equivalent of 1.7 Earths.

There are things we can do individually and collectively to halt and reverse the decline, before it becomes irreversible.

The single biggest contribution any of us can make is to stop eating meat. The meat industry is the biggest single contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

We could also make a conscious decision to buy organic food wherever possible. Organic farming is not only sustainable but actually helps combat global warming by trapping carbon in its healthy soils.

And we can do all we can to reduce our personal contribution to the problem of food waste.If food waste was a country, it would be the world’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China and the USA. We can all try to ensure we only buy what we need and use what we have, saving our purses as well as reducing our personal contribution to global warming.

On to the recipe.

This delicious aubergine dish is relatively straightforward to make, although you need to have some patience with the sauce while it reduces. The aubergine, in its tempura-like batter, becomes meltingly soft inside but satisfyingly crisp on the outside, and it is beautifully enhanced by the rich, sweet, sour and spicy sauce.

Black or Chinkiang vinegar is a variety of rice vinegar available from Asian stores. It imparts both colour and a rich, slightly smoky flavour to the sauce for this dish. If you cannot source it, you could substitute mirin, a clear rice wine vinegar. Similarly, chilli bean paste and crispy shallots can be purchased from Asian stores, but the latter are easy enough to make at home: simply place a pan of groundnut in a wok over a high heat, when the the oil begins to shimmer, add the sliced shallots and cook, stirring, for 4-5 minutes or until they turn golden and crispy.

I like to serve this dish alongside steamed jasmine rice and some pak choi, quicly wok-fried in toasted sesame oil or my stir fried broccoli with sesame and garlic.

crispy aubergine with a hot, sweet and sour sauce

2 organic aubergines
100 g organic coconut sugar
125 ml soy sauce
75 ml black vinegar
100 ml soy sauce
2 tbsp chilli bean paste
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
2 cm piece fresh ginger, very finely chopped
juice of 1 lime

for the tempura batter

40 g cornflour
100 g rice flour
pinch baking powder
pinch sea salt
175 ml bottled lager or sparkling water

to garnish

2 tbsp sesame seeds, lightly toasted
2 tbsp crispy shallots
2 spring onions, white and green parts, finely sliced across the diagonal
1 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped


1. Whisk together the cornflour, rice flour, baking powder, salt and lager or sparkling water until you have a smooth batter.

2. For the sauce, Put the sugar and 150 ml fresh water into a pan. Place over a medium heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a simmer, stirring every so often, then add the ginger, garlic, chilli bean sauce, soy sauce and black vinegar and stir to combine. Continue to simmer for 30 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced and has become thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Stir in the lime juice, remove from the heat and set to one side.

3. Slice the aubergine in half crossways then lengthways into strips about 1-2 cm thick. Pat dry on kitchen paper.

4. Pour the oil into a deep pan or wok to a depth of around 4 cm. Place over a high heat. Once the oil is hot, take the aubergine strips one by one, dip them in the batter and lower swiftly but carefully into the oil. You will need to do this in batches, a few strips at a time, to avoid lowering the oil temperature too dramatically. Cook for 4-5 minutes, turning carefully in the oil, or until the batter is crisp and golden brown all over.

5. Drain briefly on kitchen paper before serving hot, with a generous drizzle of the sauce and a scattering of the spring onions, crispy shallots, toasted sesame seeds and coriander.

Categories: dairy free, gluten free, vegan, vegetarian

Tags: , ,

7 replies

  1. Nice recipe

  2. Oh my, this looks divine. But very sorry to hear the news of Earth Overshoot Day.

  3. The aubergine (or eggplant as Imust call it whilst I am living this side of The Pond) looks divine …. that I am a devotee of all things auberginie means I will be on it like a piglet on a truffle. The sustainability of our planet is in our hands but I spend most days feeling depressed here – the sheer volume of waste is unbearable and this is the most Liberal of States. However, the green shoots are around me. My faith lies with the millenials, those widely maligned, for it is they who are leading the charge with new veggie box schemes and taking over small farms to grow things and sell them at stands. Of course they are following the lead of their grand-parents and older but I have hope, as I ever do that in the frenzy of buying everything super-sized only to throw a huge portion of it away, there may be a light that the elders will follow.

    • Thank you, Osyth. I hope you are right, because as long as there is hope there is a future. Steve x

      • I think you know that I am one who refuses to ever give up hope. I had dinner last night with two other couples. The oldest at the table is 92 years old. We talked about all things and at one point someone said ‘but what can I do? What you say is right but I can’t make a difference’. But there’s the thing. We can. Each one of us can. And if we do we are dropping a stone into the Great Lake which will make a ripple. I struggle with the reality too but I do believe that if we keep leading, others WILL follow. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart for leading. X


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