I have had a cold for two weeks and counting. It peaked a week or so ago with hot sweats, multiple body aches and a permanent fistful of tissue before gradually tailing off to its present state of lingering not-quite-wellness. After plenty of time for reflection on the various appetites of a person in the throes of poorliness, I have come to the following conclusions:

Stage one: a desire for strong tastes discernible through a blocked nose, preferably Asian and therefore with a vaguely healthy, healing aspect and a good dose of chilli, garlic and ginger to chase out the germs.

Stage two: a descent into cravings for bland, comforting stodge, junk and nostalgic childhood snacks. Anything which can be purchased on a trip to the corner shop in tracksuit/pyjama bottoms or delivered to the door.

Stage three: a determined attempt at fighting back accompanied by feeling well enough to cook again. Restorative, calming, soul-soothing preparations are the order of the day here.

I think I’ve found the perfect recipe for each of the three stages of the journey into sickness and back (sparing the worse elements of the middle stage). I hereby present to you part one: the sniffles…

Fish-fragrant aubergines

Serves 1 hungry sick person, or 1 with leftovers

Another gem from Fuchsia Dunlop’s ‘Sichuan Cookery’. There’s no fish in it, as you might think – the name refers to the method of cooking, which involves the same ingredients as would typically be used to prepare fish. Last time Tom made it for me, he inadvertently halved the recipe but left in the full quantities of garlic and ginger, which is how I’ve reproduced it here for extra immune system defence.

One more note – you really have to deep-fry the aubergines; I once tried shallow frying them and they took forever, cooked unevenly and soaked up a horrifying amount of oil. It doesn’t have to be really deep, deep frying, but the aubergine pieces should be immersed.

1 large aubergine
salt
enough oil to deep-fry
1 tbsp Sichuanese chilli bean paste
3 tsp finely chopped ginger
3 tsp finely chopped garlic
75ml stock (preferably homemade chicken, if you have it)
scant tsp sugar
1/2 tsp light soy sauce
3/4 tsp potato flour, mixed with 1 tbsp cold water (cornflour can be substituted, but you may need to use more)
3/4 tsp Chinkiang or Chinese black vinegar
2 spring onions, green parts only, finely sliced
1/2 tsp sesame oil

Cut the aubergine into evenly sized chunks, slightly larger than bite-sized. Sprinkle the pieces with 3/4 tsp salt and leave for a minimum of 30 minutes to draw out the bitter juices (if you are using the smaller oriental sized aubergines, you can skip this step).

Heat the deep-frying oil in a wok to 180-200c, until it’s just beginning to smoke. Add the aubergines in batches and deep fry for 3-4 minutes until soft right through and golden brown on the outside. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen roll.

Drain off the deep-frying oil, give the wok a quick rinse if necessary, and return it to a high heat with 1-2 tbsp oil. Add the chilli bean paste and stir fry for about 20 seconds, so the oil is red and the paste evenly distributed. Add the ginger and garlic and stir fry for another 20-30 seconds, watching that they don’t burn.

Add the stock, sugar and soy sauce and mix well. Taste and season with salt if necessary.

Add the fried aubergines to the sauce and simmer gently for a few minutes. Sprinkle over the potato flour mixture and stir until the sauce thickens. Stir in the spring onions and vinegar and leave for a few seconds, just so the onions are no longer raw. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the sesame oil and serve.

I like this with plain rice or soba noodles.

From Fuchsia Dunlop’s ‘Sichuan Cookery’

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