Category Archives: Eggplant

Take out takeout.

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I love Asian food. Much to my husband, Jason’s, regret, I could eat it every meal of every day. If I had to pick favorites, they would be mú xī pork, tom yum soup and Thai eggplant. In pursuit of better health and frugality, I want to know how to make these at home.

It’s easier said than done. I’ve tried five recipes each for mú xī’s combination of cabbage, egg and pork wrapped in light, wheat flour pancakes, and the spicy, bright flavors of lemon grass, kaffir lime, cilantro and stock I’ve downed in bowl after bowl of tom yum. All to no avail.

Last week, after three dinners in a row of Thai eggplant, I finally cracked the code. Extra palm sugar and soy help lift and balance the earthy bitterness of the eggplant. Thai basil, chili oil and vinegar make it bright. Red peppers and shitake mushrooms give depth of flavor.

Now back to work on the other two*. Sorry honey.

*I’d welcome any suggestions on these two dishes! The sooner I get them right, the sooner Jason gets to stop eating my attempts week after week.

Stir Fried Eggplant

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbs peanut oil
  • 4 cups Thai or Japanese* eggplant cut in 1.5” cubes
  • 2 cups thinly sliced Shitake mushrooms
  • 1 medium red pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup Thai or Italian (common) basil, not packed

Sauce:

  • 2 tbs each soy sauce
  • 2 tbs palm sugar*
  • 1 tbs fish sauce
  • 1 tbs Merken Chile Oil*
  • 1 tbs Serrano Chile Honey Vinegar*
  • 1 tbs cornstarch

*Substitutions: Yes, there are a lot of ingredients here, and many you may not have on hand. Here are some easy substitutes. Thai eggplant are small and thin. You can cube a large, Italian eggplant and use that instead. Palm sugar tastes identical to Maple sugar. You can use brown sugar too. Merken Chile Oil and Serrano Chile Honey Vinegar are both from Sapore in DC. I’ve gone through two bottles of the Serrano Chile Honey Vinegar since Renee introduced it a month ago. Order them online, or use chili oil and rice wine vinegar from the Asian section of your grocery store.

Directions:

  • Heat 2 tbs peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add eggplant and cook approximately 5 minutes until softened and golden. The eggplant will look translucent. Remove from pan.
  • Reduce heat slightly, add remaining tbs peanut oil in same skillet and add red pepper and Shitakes. Cook 3-5 minutes until softened.
  • While mushrooms and peppers cook, whisk together the sauce ingredients in a separate bowl with 1/4 cup warm water.
  • Add garlic and return eggplant to pan. Cook 1 minute.
  • Whisk sauce and add to pan. Stir with ingredients until it is reduced and coats the vegetables.
  • Add basil, stir through. Season to taste with white pepper and serve.
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All the fond memories that eggplant has inspired.

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Does anyone have any really cute stories about eggplant? I’m at a loss. Sure, Mom made eggplant parmesan when we were kids and it was good. I can’t get enough Thai eggplant with Thai basil – in fact I had some last night – but that’s hardly an endearing memory.

Here’s the best I’ve got: Eggplant is from the family Solanaceae which includes tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and other members of the nightshade family. It is susceptible to many of the same pests and diseases including soil borne fungi. For that reason, farmers have to rotate crops and let several years pass between growing more eggplant  in the same soil. Fascinating, right?

When I was a young plant nerd selling super-cool plants for Quansett Nurseries, I had the opportunity to meet Victory Garden host, Roger Swain. Trust me kids, this is like sitting next to Justin Bieber on the bus. He told me about a process they had developed in Japan to graft disease-resistant root stock onto eggplant plants to avoid the need for crop rotations, AND they were doing this with robots. Cue the fainting couch – I was over-nerded. (This is like playing video games on your couch with Grant Morrison while talking about his runs on Animal Man and Doom Patrol – freakin’ cool, right?)

So, no fond memories behind this dish. It’s adapted from my vegetarian cookbook girlfriend* Deborah Madison, and the combination is inspired.

*To be clear, a “cookbook girlfriend” is an author whose recipes I feel a strong connection with. I have never actually met her.

Sweet And Sour Eggplant

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2” x 2” sticks
  • 1 red onion, minced
  • 2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1/4 cup Roasted Red Pepper and Blackberry Vinegar*
  • 2 tbs honey
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tbs. mint, chopped
  • 1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • Olive oil

*From Sapore of course! Buy it online here or substitute a good, complex Sherry vinegar.

Directions:

  • Sprinkle eggplant with 1 tbs salt. After 30 minutes, rinse and pat dry. This takes the bitterness out of the eggplant and makes it easier to brown.
  • Heat 2 tbs olive oil over medium heat. Sauté eggplant for 12-15 minutes until browned on all sides. Season with salt and pepper.
  • In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté onion in 1 tbs olive oil until softened and starting to brown on edges.
  • Turn up heat, add vinegar, honey and tomato. Cook, stirring frequently until vinegar evaporates, about 3-5 minutes.
  • Stir in eggplant, mint and cheese.
  • Sweet and sour is all about the flavor balance between sugar, salt and acidity. Check the flavor and add vinegar, honey, lemon juice, salt and pepper as needed.