Our dinner with friends was predicated on a freshly-baked chocolate cake — a little experiment, as our modest baker-friend suggested. They would also provide Maw Paw Do Fu, a savory combination of browned pork and soft tofu in a fiery sauce, an old Sichuan dish that ranks among my all-time favorite foods. I suggested we supplement with another favorite: eggplant and beef with black beans and garlic. It took a minute to settle the date.

Our contribution was highly transportable, as it turned out, ingredients prepped ahead of time and transported in four packages, as though we were headed for a cooking show. The dish cooked up in ten minutes, and the richness of the eggplant paired nicely with the peppery Ma Paw Do Fu, and with Monday Night Football on the big screen. Not a bad setup for a chocolate cake that was light as a feather, with perfect chocolaty sweetness, executed only as someone who’s truly crazy about chocolate can do.

Recipe: Eggplant with Crumbled Beef in Black Bean-Garlic Sauce

4 Japanese eggplants / 2 tbls vegetable oil / 2 tbls fermented black beans / 1 tbls minced ginger / 2 gloves garlic, minced / 1 lb ground beef /3 tbls Shao Xing rice wine or sherry / 1 tsp chili-garlic sauce, or to taste / 2 stems scallions, minced / salt & pepper

Chop eggplants into chunks and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside. Rinse black beans in water, chop coarsely, mix with ginger and garlic. Mix rice wine, chili-garlic sauce, and scallions. Heat wok or other pan on medium-high and add half of oil when hot. Blot eggplant with a paper towel then add to pan, stirring to preventing burning. Remove from pan when softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn wok to high and add remaining oil. Pour in black bean mixture, stir a few times, then add ground beef and cook until browned, about 3 minutes. Pour in rice wine mixture and cooked eggplants, and stir a few more times to combine. Adjust salt and pepper if desired. Serve immediately. Feeds 4.

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