This recipe for Quick Spicy Thai Style Eggplant combines fresh, firm Japanese eggplant with a spicy Thai style sauce to create a delicious hot side or cold salad..
The making of Quick Spicy Thai Style Eggplant
Houston, we have eggplant.
Every year, for the past seven, we have planted our summer garden with mixed results.
One year we get a lot of tomatoes, the next year, not so much. One year we got NO zucchini. How does one get no zucchini? Peppers generally do well, at least the smaller ones, I've yet to get large plump bells. And eggplant. It's hit and miss.
This year seems more of a hit. I have beautiful plants, filled with fruit, and buds at the ready to give me more.
This year I planted both Japanese and globe eggplant. The globes are still globing, but the Japanese eggplant is giving me new fruit almost every day. I like to pick them when they are still on the smaller side as the texture has a tendency to be firmer - so when looking for them at the market, look for smaller, firm, dark purple fruits without bruises or flaws.
Thai basil is also at the ready. So what's a person to do? Make a Thai inspired eggplant stir-fry. That's what.
The Ying/Yang of Thai Food
I love cooking Thai food. The elements of sweet, salty, sour, spicy, and bitter make for an exciting explosion of flavor in every bite.
In this recipe the sweet is coming from Hoisin sauce - this is also one of the ingredients that makes this dish Thai style rather than just Thai. Hoisin sauce is not a normal Thai ingredient. It's a normal Chinese cooking ingredient. But when developing this sauce, I liked the way the Hoisin added thickness as well as sweetness, so I used it in place of sugar. If you wanted to keep it more Thai authentic, use sugar, preferably palm sugar in place of the Hoisin. About a teaspoon should do. You may also need to add a bit of cornstarch to the mix to keep the sauce thick.
Salty comes from the soy sauce - and even though I only use low-sodium soy - it has plenty of salt. Also adding to the saltiness is the black bean sauce, again, more Chinese than Thai, but I liked the addition.
Fusion, fusion is good.
The fish sauce also adds a salty element - along with a depth of flavor that just can't be duplicated with any other ingredient.
I love using fish sauce, but don't recommend smelling it.
Lime juice adds the sour, and chili peppers add the heat. For the chili peppers you could use Thai chilis, or as I did, a Hungarian long red pepper, which is very very hot. As a matter of course, always check your pepper for heat factor prior to putting it into your dish. You can always adjust the heat before, but it's hard to do after the fact. Remember, the membranes and seeds have the most heat, so if the flesh of the pepper is hot, you may want to reconsider adding seeds.
Unless you like it really hot.
And of course, there's the chili garlic sauce. I love the flavor of it, but it's another area you can feel free to use more or less of, depending on your individual taste.
Thai basil and the eggplant itself add a bitter element. Thai basil has a sharper flavor than sweet basil, with a slight anise, or licorice flavor. Its leaves are long and narrow and hold up well to cooking. For this dish, just pull the leaves from the stem, no chopping necessary. If you can't find Thai basil, you can use regular basil, just tear or chiffonade the leaves.
As a child, I didn't much care for eggplant. Unless it was breaded, fried, covered with cheese and marinara. Eggplant Parm, I could get behind that. But my mother cooked ratatouille, the old fashioned way, cooked to death. More of a mush of stewed vegetables than a vegetable. Until I made my own fresh version of Not Really Ratatouille, I thought eggplant HAD to be cooked to death. Almost every recipe I read had you cooking it for 30 minutes or more. But through experimentation, I found that I like eggplant cooked hardly more than 5 minutes or so. While the vegetable was soft, it still had its structure and integrity.
Eggplant also has a tendency to be a sponge, soaking up oil like crazy. So I find it's important to use a minimal amount of oil. That along with a hot pan, and keeping the vegetable moving, helps keep it from absorbing too much oil. Of course, its sponge-like quality is a plus for soaking in the delicious sauce.
Quick Spicy Thai Style Eggplant
The Leftover's Dish
As I was cooking just for BB and me, and made servings for 4, I had leftovers. I thought it would make a great healthy vegetarian lunch served over some rice. And I'm sure it would have. But then, as I was preparing the next night's dinner, some chicken kabobs marinated in my Tandoori Chicken marinade, I thought, how good this would be as a side salad? Very good is the answer.
I never like serving a leftover exactly the same as the original. Shake it up a bit, and a leftover is a whole new experience. Adding some fresh chopped tomato, diced cucumber for crunch, a couple of splashes of balsamic vinegar, along with a dash or two of sesame seed oil changed the whole flavor. And of course, it was served cold.
Now wait a minute, you might say. Splashes and dashes? What kind of measurement is that? Well to clarify, splashes are bigger than dashes. Dashes are smaller than splashes. Is that clear now? So just a few splashes of balsamic added to the acidity and flavor without disturbing the original sauce, and a couple of dashes of sesame oil gave it a fresh sweet, nutty quality. Be careful when using sesame seed oil as it has a tendency to take over a dish. So dashes, not splashes of sesame seed oil.
Bottom line? This recipe was delicious both ways. Hot, warm, cold. As the original side, or the new salad. However you serve it, it has great flavor. And if you think you don't like eggplant, try it again. This recipe might change your mind.
Quick Spicy Thai Style Eggplant
- For the Spicy Sauce
- 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons water
- 2 teaspoons Hoisin
- 2 teaspoons black bean sauce
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 teaspoon garlic chili sauce or to taste
- For the Eggplant
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil - such as grapeseed
- ½ cup diced red onion cut into about ½ inch pieces
- 1 pound thin Japanese eggplant about 2 - 3 medium cut in half and then into bite-sized pieces
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic about 3- 4 cloves
- 1 long hot red chili or 4 Thai red chilies, thinly sliced, divided
- Salt - only if needed. I found I didn't need to add any additional salt to the dish.
- ¼ cup loosely packed Thai basil leaves or regular if you can't get Thai
- Additional lime wedges for serving
- For the Leftovers Dish
- Diced Tomato
- Diced cucumber
- Additional fresh Thai basil torn or thinly sliced
- Splash or two of balsamic vinegar
- Dash or two of sesame seed oil
- Prepare the Sauce: Combine the soy, water, hoisin, black bean sauce, lime juice, and garlic chili sauce together in a small bowl. Mix well. Set aside.
- Heat a wok or other large skillet over medium-high heat; add the oil. Once the oil is hot, add the onions and stir fry for a few minutes or until the onion is soft and just beginning to brown; add the eggplant, garlic, and half of the sliced chilies, cook, tossing and turning until the eggplant just begins to turn translucent, about 3 - 4 minutes; add the sauce and cook, stirring to coat all the ingredients. Lower heat and cook about 2 minutes more or until the eggplant is just tender. Remove from heat and add the Thai basil and remaining chilies. Place in a serving dish and serve hot, or at room temperature.
- The Leftovers Dish: Add some chopped tomato, cucumber, and additional freshly sliced basil. Drizzle with a splash of balsamic and a dash of sesame oil. Toss and serve cold as a salad.