Basil Eggplant stir-fry is a classic “HOT-FRY” (熱炒 RèChǎo) dish in Taiwan. This dish is savory, garlicky, aromatic, and super easy to make! Done in 10 minutes. Restaurants usually deep fry the eggplant to retain it’s magical deep purple color, but there’s another trick to retain the color without deep frying them first!
I love eggplant.
Why eggplant is AWESOME:
- It’s pretty. The color is irresistible, that deep rich purple makes me wish that the world is in that color.
- Eggplants absorb all the amazing flavor you cook it with. It’s pretty much a sponge before it’s cooked!
- The texture is interesting after it’s cooked. It is soft, yet not mushy (unless you overcook it), great for my grandma and young kids!
- There are about 100 ways to cook this purple veg
- It lasts in the fridge. I like food that can sit in the fridge in case I don’t have time to cook that day… or that week.
- It’s healthy. “Eggplant is a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin B1 and copper. It is a good source of manganese, vitamin B6, niacin, potassium, folate, and vitamin K. Eggplant also contains phytonutrients such as nasunin and chlorogenic acid.” -whfoods
- I laugh whenever I think of this story happened to my friends:
My friends (one’s English, the other one’s French) went to a stir-fry restaurant(one that they go to every Sunday) in Taipei and wanted to order this eggplant dish. They couldn’t find it on the menu since they couldn’t read Chinese so they called the waiter over and told him that they wanted “aubergine”. The waiter couldn’t understand them, so they tried saying “eggplant”.
He still didn’t understand so he called over pretty much everyone who worked at the restaurant to try to figure out what they wanted. It became a huge charades party. My friends tried sign language, spelling it out, breaking it down and saying it really slowly: EGG – PLANT.
All of the sudden one of the cooks shouted out “AHH!! I KNOW!!”. They all cheered for a while and my friends let out a sigh of relief.
10 minutes later……
the cook came back with a plate of veggie omelette and a big proud smile on his face.
I bought my eggplant at the Rochester downtown farmers market, I was surprised by how many varieties there were! I prefer the long Asian variety, the skin is softer and it’s the kind that’s used in most Taiwanese dishes.
Seed Savers Exchange has an eggplant variety called “PingTung Long”, PingTung(屏東PíngDōng) is a county in Taiwan that’s famous for lots of vegetables! I was surprised to see this variety in their collection. It’s also voted as an all-time favorite.
KEEPING IT PURPLE
One tricky thing about cooking these purple beauties is keeping the rich color… or even just to keep it purple-ish. The problem is the anthocyanidin in the skin and tannin in the flesh reacts with oxygen then it turns into a sad brown color.
The traditional way of preventing the browning in Taiwan(and a lot of people still do that) is to quickly drench the chopped eggplant in hot oil to deep fry it for a few seconds before stir-frying. The oil coats the eggplant, preventing chemical reaction happening but for eggplant being a sponge, this is probably not the healthiest option.
To fix this, we need acid and salt. Soak the chopped eggplants in a bowl of water with salt and a dash of vinegar to prevent the purple from turning into brown when encountering high heat. The salt also helps soften the eggplant so it cooks faster and absorbs flavors better!
Next, the herbs and spice that goes into Basil Eggplant Stir-Fry: Thai basil and garlic. Most Taiwanese stir-fry dishes are really heavy on garlic. Always use FRESH garlic when making Taiwanese food, the jarred garlic is simply not pungent enough.
Thai basil here is the closest variety to Taiwanese basil(九層塔JiǔCéngTǎ). It’s another classic flavor in a lot of Taiwanese dishes- Three Cup Chicken(三杯雞SānBēiJī) is another classic. Thai basil is a little spicier with a hint of licorice and anise flavor. They grow easily in heat and humidity, you can purchase seeds and grow them indoors next to a window or grow them from cuttings.
They often sell Thai basil at the Farmers Market, Asian food store or sometimes People’s food co-op.
- 1 tsp Salt (for soaking the egg plant)
- 2 TBsp Vinegar (for soaking the egg plant)
- Water (for soaking the egg plant)
- 4 Long Asian Eggplants cut into 1" sections, about 6 cups
- 4 Cloves of garlic Minced
- 2 Sprigs of spring onions chopped
- 2 C Thai Basil Leaves
- 2 TBsp Oil
- 1 TBsp Sugar
- 2 TBsp Soy Sauce
- 2 Spicy Red Chili ( Chopped, Optional)
- Salt To Taste
- Add 1tsp of salt and 2TBp of vinegar to a bowl with chopped eggplant and add enough water to cover the eggplants. Soak the chopped eggplants for 5mins, add a small plate on top to keep the eggplants in the water
- Strain the eggplants
- Heat 2TBsp oil in a pan on medium-high
- Add the chopped eggplants (try to coat them evenly with oil)
- Add 1TBsp sugar and the chopped garlic (and chili if using)
- Once the sugar is gone, add 2TBsp soy sauce
- Cook till the soy sauce is absorbed and eggplants are soft
- Extra salt to taste
- Add the chopped spring onions
- Turn the heat off then add Thai basil and stir