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Black vinegar (Recipe: cold aubergine salad)

Cold aubergine salad

For some reason — I'm not questioning — I've received many wonderful cookbooks as gifts this summer.

(PS: I love gifts of cookbooks much more than gifts of food, and just as much as gifts of wooden spoons and cooking utensils from faraway places...in case you were wondering, or making a list and checking it twice....)

Barbara brought an encyclopedic cookbook from Argentina, and Bev returned from Peru with a charming locally-published volume filled with recipes we can't quite understand (though both books have been translated into English, which might be part of the problem). Kate's son Max brought two local cookbooks from his travels in Turkey and Greece; I discovered them in my mailbox one Saturday morning — a delightful surprise.

Ted hit the bookstores in Toronto on a recent business trip, and came home with three treasures, including Flavours of Vancouver, a fundraiser for Save The Children Canada, and the original British edition of Ken Hom's Quick Wok: The Fastest Food in the East.

I always open books in the middle or at the end, never at the beginning. I don't know why. I read newspapers and magazines back-to-front, too. So, I stuck my thumb in the middle, opened Quick Wok, and landed on Cold Aubergine Salad, a recipe that calls for black vinegar.

It was a sign.

I've been using Chinese black vinegar for years, so it's always in my pantry. Black vinegar has a more assertive taste than regular old white vinegar, somewhat like a cross between balsamic and Worcestershire. The aging process gives it a slightly woodsy and smoky flavor. Because it is both sweet and rich, black vinegar is recommended for braised dishes, or as a marinade or dipping sauce. 

Black vinegar

The best quality black vinegar — also called black rice vinegar, Chinese brown rice vinegar, brown rice vinegar, Chinkiang vinegar, Chekiang vinegar, Chenkong vinegar, and Zhejiang vinegar — comes from the province of Chinkiang in southwestern China. Pulitzer-Prize winning author Pearl Buck lived in Chinkiang as a child, with her missionary parents.

Purchase black vinegar online or in your local Asian market; compared to balsamic, it's a bargain. Be sure to read the ingredient list carefully; I have several black vinegars in my pantry, from China and Taiwan, each a bit different. Look for one that lists rice, or something rice-like, as the first ingredient. Tasting is the only way to find the vinegar that will become your favorite.

Cold aubergine salad

Ken Hom's cold aubergine salad {vegetarian}

A lovely vegetarian dish from Quick Wok: The Fastest Food in the East, by Ken Hom. Aubergines are eggplants; any kind will taste great, though I prefer the long, skinny Japanese eggplant, which has fewer seeds. Serves 4 as a side dish.


1 lb aubergines (eggplants)

For the sauce:
1-1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
1-2 tsp chili oil
2 Tbsp finely chopped garlic
1-1/2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
3 Tbsp finely chopped spring onions (scallions)
2 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp Chinese black vinegar

Handful of fresh coriander sprigs (optional, for garnish)


Cut the aubergines into 2-inch squares. Do not peel them.

Next, set up a steamer or put a rack into a wok and fill it with 2 inches of water. Bring the water to the boil over a high heat. Put the aubergines onto a heatproof plate and carefully lower it into the steamer or onto the rack. Turn the heat to low and cover the wok tightly. Steam gently for 30-40 minutes or until the aubergines are very soft to the touch. When they are cooked, remove from the wok, transfer to a platter and allow to cool thoroughly. (Can be prepared ahead up to this point; cover and refrigerate the aubergines for up to 24 hours. Bring back to room temperature before completing the recipe.)

Now, make the sauce. Wipe the wok clean and reheat it. When it is hot, add the sesame and chili oils. When they are very hot and slightly smoking, add the garlic and stir-fry for 40 seconds.

Add the rest of the ingredients, mix thoroughly, and stir-fry for 1 minute. Remove the wok from the heat and allow the sauce to cool.

When you are ready to serve, pour the sauce evenly over the aubergines and toss well. Garnish with the coriander if using and serve at once at room temperature.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More eggplant variations:
"Poor little eggplants", from The Perfect Pantry
Moroccan eggplant salad, from The Perfect Pantry
Eggplant, cumin and black bean salad, from Appetite for China

A really interesting way to prepare eggplant, from Ken Hom.

Need more ideas for how to create salads with pizzazz? Get Dress Up Your Salad, my e-book packed with easy mix-and-match recipes, full-color photos and a few fun videos. Exciting salad recipes from everyday ingredients can be just one click away, on any computer, tablet or smart phone, with the FREE Kindle Reading app. Click here to learn more.

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


I like the idea of using this vinegar for marinating steak. I am making some tenderoin tips tonight, so I am going to get some today!

Also, Bob reads magazines the same way as you read your cook books, so I have to tell him about this. He will certainly feel good, with your being such a profound writer, it will be a compliment!

Steak tips recipe:

2 lbs of Black Angus steak tips or Flank steak
1/3 cup evoo
a few splashes of black vinegar
a splash of worsteshire sauce
a teaspoon of fresh thyme, rosemary and/or basil
a teaspoon of Emeril's Essense
fresh black pepper
some garlic salt to taste (1/2 teaspoon)
(I also like to add a little steak seasoning for the crunchy seasoning touch)

Place meat on a platter and add all the ingrediants and work them in. Place in a zip-lock bag and refrigerate for a few hours.

Put the grill on med-high and sear until moisture shows on the top of the meat..turn and leave on for a few minutes until your desired doneness.

I also use the leftover marinade and just bring it to a boil and serve over the tips or steak.

I serve this with green bell peppers and yellow onion, also done on the grill. I just toss the veggies in with evoo and garlic salt and some steak seasoning...grill unti firm not mushy.


Pam, this recipe looks absolutely yummy. Thanks so much for sharing another of your great cooking ideas. We're doing some fire pit cooking tonight, and there's nothing like steak cooked on an open fire. Well....anything cooked on an open fire tastes pretty darned good. Steak and s'mores???

Lydia - I've never used black vinegar - another item to add to my shopping list. There are so many vinegars now!

When I found myself in Boston last week with 45 minutes of free time before my bus back to Providence I was inspired by the Perfect Pantry to walk through Chinatown and pick up some black vinegar (as well as mushroom flavored soy sauce and seasame seed oil.) Last night I followed Pam's suggestion of a steak marinade. Wow! The black vinegar really added a nice deep flavor to the meat. This is terrific addition to my pantry. Thanks!

Arigato for this recipe! I will definitely try this out later tonight! Sugoi (Great)! I think thsi is so Japanese and I can feel that I can turn my dinner table into a Japanese restaurant with this one! Thanks for sharing!

Thanks for the information. I've trying to find the black vinegar for some time, now I have more info to go on.
Though I see the prices in the states are a lot lower than here in Sweden. One of those bottles would probably be $10-12 here.

And great site over all, I'll stay around to get inspired. Thanks!

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