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May 19, 2019

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Treasures to fill you up and warm the heart

WHEN I first moved to China I was laser-focused on learning how to cook some traditional Chinese dishes. I was fortunate enough to have a very kind and friendly neighbor who would invite me over to her house each week for dinner with her family and a cooking lesson.

My Chinese at the time was pretty miserable but the love and language of cooking is universal. She taught me many dishes but the ones I took to heart and stomach were the northeastern Chinese dishes (东北菜).

Northeastern Chinese dishes have always been my favorite. The cuisine there is more of what we would call in America “meat and potatoes” cuisine. Hearty dishes that fill you up and stick to your stomach. Vegetables and meat stewed or braised in a rich sauce. These dishes are sure to warm you up despite the blistering cold weather in the north. But not all northeastern dishes are of the meat and potato variety. Still, they make great use of fresh vegetables and flavorful sauces.

Here is one northeastern dish that my neighbor taught me. I think of sitting with her family and enjoying the home-cooked meals we made together every time I eat this.

One of my favorites is disanxian, or Three Earthly Treasures (地三鲜). It is an easy stir-fried recipe with potatoes, eggplant and green peppers at center stage. The dish can be prepared quickly enough and is a great vegetarian option to include on the dinner table.

It is a northeastern home-style dish that’s popular across all of China with many variations. Proportions for ingredients such as garlic, ginger, salt and soy sauce vary greatly across the regions.

I have included approximate amounts for each ingredient, but it is important that you adjust the amounts to suit your own tastes and preference so as to make the dish your own.


11 medium eggplant

2 medium potatoes

2 green peppers

3 cloves of garlic

2 green onions (whites only)

1 small knob of ginger (peeled)

15ml light soy sauce

7ml dark soy sauce

15ml salt

7ml sugar

80ml peanut/corn oil (or as needed)

Corn starch




Wash the vegetables. Take your eggplant, peeled if desired, and cut into bite-sized wedges. Place them in a bowl, sprinkle with salt and fill the bowl with water to just cover the eggplant. Mix the eggplant and salt mixture to dissolve the salt. Place a lid, or something with a little weight, smaller than the bowl on top to ensure that all the eggplant pieces are submerged and let soak for 15 minutes.

Next, cut potatoes into semi-thin slices to ensure that each piece will be crispy after a shallow fry. Cut peppers into similarly shaped pieces as your eggplant. Mince your garlic and ginger and set aside for later use.

After 15 minutes, remove the eggplant from its salt water bath, drain thoroughly and thinly coat with corn starch. Before cooking your vegetables, in a small bowl combine your light and dark soy, salt, sugar, a bit of corn starch and a splash of water.

Now it’s time to fry your vegetables. Heat a frying pan or wok to medium heat then add enough oil to cover the surface of the pan to about 3cm evenly — don’t worry we will pour some of this out later.

Begin to fry your eggplant. When placing the eggplant, make sure the pieces do not stick together, as the corn starch fries the pieces will want to stick. Fry them in multiple batches if necessary.

Fry until all or the majority of your pieces have cooked through and turned golden brown, about 5-8 minutes. You will want to stir them occasionally to make sure each piece has an opportunity to brown.

Remove the eggplant and set aside.

Next pour out most of your oil, all we need now is a thin film of oil for our potatoes. Repeat the process for the potatoes. Cook for about 5 minutes or until they have turn crispy and golden brown. Remove the potatoes and cook your peppers until slightly soft, about 2-3 minutes.

Once all your vegetables have been cooked and are placed aside, add your garlic, ginger and onion to the pan, adding a bit more oil if needed. This is where you will want to move quickly.

On a medium high heat, fry the garlic, ginger and onion. They will only take about 30 seconds. As soon as you smell the garlic, ginger and onion, add the eggplant, potatoes and peppers back to the pan and turn heat to high.

Pour your sauce mixture into the pan and stir frequently to incorporate all the flavors. Once thoroughly mixed, turn off the heat and serve.


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