Char siu, the strips of barbecued roast pork with their signature crimson exterior, is a treasured Cantonese meat, and the most popular siu mei dish. Siu mei is a term that refers to the roasted meats popular in Hong Kong, but also commonly found in Chinatown windows around the world. Most city-dwelling Cantonese kids grew up eating siu mei—during my carnivorous youth, as my mother arrived home from the store, I would sidle up with my best good-daughter-face and charm a few slices of warm, juicy char siu and crispy pork crackling before dinnertime. In this recipe, eggplant is marinated, char siu style, in a fragrant, fruity barbecue sauce. Eggplant, a renowned carrier of flavor, greedily absorbs the sauce before it is roasted at high heat, emerging sweet and silky, imbued with lots of dark, caramelized notes. A note for gluten intolerant cooks: make sure your hoisin sauce is gluten-free or use the homemade version. This marinade is incredibly versatile and can be used to marinate and roast firm tofu and other vegetables in the exact same way. This is best eaten with rice, of course, but it’s also good stuffed into a crusty roll with cilantro, mint and salad greens, or used to make eggplant char siu bao (there’s a bao recipe in To Asia, With Love).

Serves 4

  • 2 large eggplants (about 1 ¾ lb/800 g), sliced into discs ⅜ inch (1 cm) thick

    TST-Tenderheart Book cover Tenderheart: A Cookbook About Vegetables and Unbreakable Family Bonds Hetty Lui McKinnon
  • extra-virgin olive oil

  • sea salt

  • rice, to serve

  • 2 green onions, finely sliced, for topping

  • Toasted white sesame seeds, to serve 

Char Siu Sauce

  • 2 small garlic cloves, grated

  • ¼ cup (60 ml) hoisin sauce

  • 4 teaspoons soy sauce or tamari

  • 4 teaspoons maple syrup

  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar or Shaoxing rice wine

  • 1 teaspoon five-spice powder 

To make the char siu sauce, whisk together all the ingredients in a large bowl. Add the eggplant slices and marinate for 30–60 minutes or up to 4 hours in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. 

Lay the marinated eggplant slices on the prepared pan, drizzle with olive oil and roast for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and flip the eggplant over. Using a pastry brush, baste each slice with the marinade and drizzle with more olive oil, then return to the oven and roast for another 15 minutes. When cooked, brush the tops of the eggplant slices with more of the marinade and season well with sea salt.

Serve the eggplant with rice, topped with the green onion and sesame seeds.

Gluten-free and vegan

Substitute • maple syrup: honey, brown sugar
Vegetable swap • eggplant: cauliflower, mushrooms, extra- firm tofu

Credit line: From Tenderheart: A Cookbook About Vegetables and Unbreakable Family Bonds. © 2023 by Hetty Lui McKinnon. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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