Chinese-style Black Bean Sauce with Veggies

While making a Chinese-style veggie dish at my brother and sister-in-laws, I suddenly realized I’d forgotten to buy tofu. By chance Stef and Jen had a can of black turtle beans in the cupboard. Seeing them jogged my memory; black bean sauce (made with fermented soy beans though!) is regularly used as a flavoring in Chinese dishes. So why not use these instead? And it worked. Plus it’s fast become one of the Zen River lunch favourites too.


Black Bean Sauce

100 g (½ cup) dried black beans or 250 g (1½ cups) cooked and drained (about one can)
180 ml (¾ cup) water
3 cloves garlic
20 g ginger
2 tablespoons corn starch mixed with 3 tablespoons cold water
2 tablespoons sake (or sweet white wine; or sherry; or grape juice)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar, or other sweetener to taste
½ teaspoon Chinese 5 spice powder, or to taste
2 teaspoons roasted sesame oil, or to taste
Salt to taste


2 aubergines
1 head bok choy
150 g (2 cups) sugar snap peas or snow peas
125 g (1½ cups) bean sprouts
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Oil for frying and baking


  • If using canned black beans, drain and rinse before using.
  • If using dried black beans soak overnight or eight hours in triple the amount of water. Drain and rinse the beans, put in a big pot and cover with about 4 cm (2”) of fresh water. Bring to a boil then lower the flame and gently simmer, covered, for about 1–2½ hours, or until the beans are tender but not falling apart. (The timing will depend on the age of the beans.) Skim any foam as it appears. Add more water as needed to keep the beans submerged.
  • To cook the beans in a pressure cooker cover the beans with 3 cm (1½”) of water and cook at high pressure for about 7 minutes. Turn off the flame and release the pressure by putting the cooker under running cold water. Check if the beans are tender by pressing one between your fingers. If so scoop them out with a slotted spoon and set aside. If not cook them again for 1 minute under pressure then release. Drain before using in the sauce.
  • Peel and mince the ginger and garlic.
  • In a deep frying pan or wok on medium flame, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the ginger and garlic until they release their fragrance. Add the water and bring to a boil. Mix the corn starch with 3 tablespoons of cold water and whisk in. Stir until it thickens and starts to bubble. Turn off the flame and add the drained black beans, sake, soy sauce, sugar, and 5 spice powder. Stir well, then cover with a lid to keep warm. (The sauce can be made in advance but when reheating don’t let it boil.)
  • Cut the aubergines into equal sized thirds, then cut each third lengthwise like a pizza; into half, then quarters, then eighths. Combine with half a teaspoon of salt and let the aubergine rest. Preheat the oven to 200 °C. When the oven is hot, rinse the salt from the aubergine then dry with a clean kitchen towel. Toss the aubergine in 2 tablespoons each of olive oil and soy sauce and scatter on an oiled baking sheet. Bake for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick slides easily through the centre and they are a nice golden colour underneath.
  • Refresh the bean sprouts by rinsing them with cold water.
  • Remove and discard the stem end and string from each sugar snap.
  • Separate the bok choy stems from the leaves. Cut the stems into diagonal slices and set aside.
  • Cut the leaves into 5 cm (2 inch) strips and put in a separate bowl.
  • Clean the wok, put on a high flame, heat 2 tablespoons of oil then put in the bean sprouts, sugar snaps, and bok choi stems and stir-fry for about a minute.
  • Next add the bok choi leaves and continue to stir-fry until the leaves wilt. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and cook a few seconds more.
  • Put in the sauce and heat through without boiling, then scoop in the baked aubergine being careful not to break them.
  • Drizzle with sesame oil and serve.

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