In Chinese, 盒子 (hézi) literally translates into box — an edible box, of course. A typical “box” that you’ll see sold as a quick street food item consists of chopped chives and eggs (or some other variation of that) stuffed into a dough “box,” although that box is shaped more like a crescent moon. I like to think of them as the older cousin of dumplings. Both are like savory pocket pies, but hézi usually are larger, have more filling, and a crisper skin.
My favorite type of these boxes is called 炸茄盒 (fried eggplant box, as Google so translates), and it incorporates another new ingredient: eggplant. Now, I love eggplants (fried eggplants, eggplant with garlic sauce, szechuan eggplant, you name it). But I think this dish takes the crown for using eggplant in such a fun, unique and tasty way — a crispy fried eggplant surrounding a savory, pork filling.
It’s pretty hard to find an English version of this, since the common “box” to make is the chive box. This recipe, though, is from years of experience from my grandmother and uncle, who’d make this dish for me every time I went to China during the summer. It wasn’t until just a few weeks ago that my mom finally decided to try her hand at it. After some mishaps and lots of calling my uncle overseas, we’ve finally put our family’s version of this recipe in words (because as we know, older Asian generations don’t usually follow a recipe book — they just add soy sauce and spices until a voice from our ancestors says, alright, looks about right). Hopefully, you’ll like it just as much as we do.
There are two main components for the recipe: the batter and the eggplant/filling. I’ll separate them accordingly to try to make things more clear.
1 cup all purpose flour ¼ cup cornstarch ½ tsp soy sauce ½ tsp rice vinegar ½ tsp yeast ¼ tsp salt 1 tsp baking powder
1. Combine all ingredients for the batter into a large bowl, and add enough water so that the consistency is thick but runny enough to fall into a ribbon when you lift the spatula (think: macaron batter).
2. Set aside.
1 lb ground pork 1 tbs scallions 1 tbs dried shrimp ½ tbs finely diced ginger 1 tbs soy sauce 1 tbs oyster sauce ½ tbs sugar ¼ tbs salt 1 egg (lightly beaten)
1. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl and set aside.
Putting It All Together
1. Take 2 medium sized eggplants and wash thoroughly.
2. Now, to cut the eggplant, you want to make a first cut that goes almost to entirely through, but leave about one centimeter from actually doing so. Then, make a second cut that goes through. That leaves you with an eggplant “shell.”
3. Repeat until you’ve cut both eggplants in this manner. [See images below]
4. Then, stuff the eggplant shell with filling, enough to fill it up but not to where the filling spills out. Repeat for the remainder.
5. Here, you’ll want to take a large frying pan and pour oil into it about ½ way (yeah, it’s a lot of oil). Heat it to 375F. Make sure you don’t splash hot oil onto yourself, so wear long sleeves!
6. Once the temperature is reached (the oil is ready to be used for frying), you’ll want to dip the stuffed eggplant into the batter, until the eggplant is fully covered.
7. Then, drop into the oil. For each side of the eggplant, wait about 3-5 minutes (or until golden and puffy) and flip to the other side.
8. Once both sides have been fried, take the finished eggplant box and place it into a bowl lined with a paper towel (to soak up the extra oil).
9. Repeat for the remainder.
And there you have it, the classic fried eggplant box! Make sure to pair it with some tea (cooled down, certainly), so you don’t overwhelm yourself with too much fried food, as my grandma would always suggest.
Hope you enjoyed the recipe, and make sure to tag us @hungrymindhungrystomach if you make your own–we’d love to see and share your creations!