Thai eggplant with basil is one of my favorite dishes, but it’s often sky high in grease and salt. I am happy to tell you that today, I am sharing my version that cuts down on the bad stuff, but is still very much worth eating!
Preparing a decent eggplant dish without a ton of oil is no small feat. Luckily, I have a trick up my sleeve that involves much less oil than most stir-frys, but still results in thoroughly cooked, silky eggplant. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you . . .
Steam-frying! I’ve actually seen Jacques Pepin do this on t.v. more than once, when he’s trying to speed up the cooking of sauteed vegetables. It starts with a little bit of oil in the hot pan, followed by the veggies. Once you’ve got a little bit of color on them, add a splash of water and quickly cover the pan. This instant sauna cooks eggplant like a dream, avoiding the usual trap of adding glugs and glugs of oil, only to have the eggplant absorb it like a sponge.
Eggplant and basil are natural partners — they complement each other incredibly well. I used widely available Italian basil to good effect, but if you’ve got the Thai variety around feel free to use that.
A couple key ingredients contribute to the deep flavor of this dish: savory fish sauce and Garlic Gold oil. Don’t be afraid to use a little bit of fish sauce in your cooking — it truly does not taste fishy, but rather adds a background note that rounds out and amplifies all the other flavors. And hey, if you’ve cooked with Worcestershire sauce, then you’ve already used a “fish sauce” of sorts, since it contains anchovies.
Garlic Gold oil is simply organic extra virgin olive oil infused with garlic. It has a wonderfully toasty garlic aroma, and a couple tablespoons are plenty to permeate the eggplant and flavor the sauce.
And now, to address the elephant in the room . . . yeah, I did cut those carrots into flower-shapes. Dorky stuff, I know, but aren’t they kinda pretty? I used big, fat Chantenay carrots from the farmers market, but you could do this with regular-sized carrots too. Simply cut little notches down the sides of the carrots before slicing. Or you could dispense with the frippery, cut your carrots on the bias or into round coins and they’ll taste just as good.
Eggplant and Basil Steam-Fry
2 Tbsp. Garlic Gold oil
2 Tbsp. peanut oil, divided
3 medium-sized Chinese eggplants, roll cut into 1″ pieces
1/4 C. water
2 Chantenay carrots, cut into 1/8″ thick flowers
1/2 purple onion, cut into 1″ pieces
2 purple bell peppers, cut into 1″ pieces
3 serrano chiles, seeded and diced small
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 Tbsp. fish sauce (Three Crabs brand)
1 Tbsp. reduced sodium soy sauce
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. corn starch
1/2 C. water
6 sprigs of basil, leaves removed and stems discarded
1. In one small bowl, mix together the fish sauce, soy sauce, and brown sugar. Set aside.
2. In another small bowl, mix the corn starch and water together until completely dissolved. Set aside.
3. In a large (12″ skillet), heat the Garlic Gold oil over medium heat. Add the eggplant, sauteeing for a few minutes, shaking often. When eggplant has begun to brown slightly, add the 1/4 C. of water and cover the skillet. Let steam-fry for about 3 minutes, uncover and let water evaporate completely, then remove eggplant to a platter and set aside.
4. Add 1 Tbsp. of the peanut oil to the now empty skillet. Add carrots, purple onion, and bell pepper, and saute until onions are slightly softened and no longer opaque, about 3 minutes. Remove to platter with the eggplant.
5. Add the last tablespoon of peanut oil to the empty skillet. Add the chiles to the pan and fry until aromatic but not browned, about 30 seconds.
6. Add the rest of the vegetables back to the skillet. Toss to combine, then add the fish sauce mixture and let simmer for a minute. Add the corn starch and water, stirring until a thick sauce is formed. Turn off the heat, add the basil leaves, toss to coat with the sauce and wilt the leaves.
7. Serve over your grain of choice.