When buying the hard-to-find ingredients for my Tom Kha Soup with Tofu (galangal root, anyone?), I spotted the most beautiful and fresh Japanese Eggplant at Red Stick Farmer’s Market in Baton Rouge, LA.
I was first turned on to Japanese Eggplant by my friend Christina’s mother–a native of the Philippines–and the outstanding stir fries she would make with simple ingredients like soy sauce and chili paste.
I have these intense memories of her blistering Japanese eggplant over a gas stove pushing the purple skin into the open flames so she could peel away to the tender meat with ease. I love the way people from other cultures cook, and more so, I love the way their food tastes.
Since Asian dishes aren’t necessarily my specialty (but an exciting avenue of cookery), I went out of my way to ensure I had all of the right ingredients when setting up the mise en place for this meal. Ingredients such as shredded bamboo root, Japanese eggplant, hoisin sauce, spicy sesame oil, soy sauce, chopped cilantro, pressed garlic, ginger, and chili garlic paste should all be ready when roasting and cooking this dish.
And, Vinh Phat of Baton Rouge is exactly the place to get it.
Photo Courtesy of The Advocate. Pictured: Judy Thai lifting various produce inside Vinh Phat Market.
A word on Vinh Phat: you can read an excellent article on the contents, business, and owners here, but for anyone living in the BR area, it really is the number one place to go for the ingredients listed in any serious or authentic Asian-style dish. They even have bright green (tart) mangoes lining the produce section that I must try the next time I visit.
But for now, this easy and flavorful Spicy Japanese Eggplant hits hardy spots when served over brown rice or soba noodles. The various kinds of sauce used to glaze the summer fruit make the entire dish sing, whereas the several spices necessary for its construction make adding heat to the dish relatively easy.
Dress in sesame seeds and cilantro leaves for a beautiful presentation and be sure to get the exact ingredients listed in this sauce for a restaurant-style Asian dish straight from your kitchen.
Spicy Japanese Eggplant
This recipe has been adapted from Pham Fatale (the original, here). Although I like the original plenty, I think Jacqueline Pham’s version could use extra sauce, liquid, and the addition of mushrooms. Both are great, but for my variation, read below.
*6 Japanese Eggplants, cut into 2-inch cubes
*coarse salt, as needed
*8 ounces portabello or white button mushrooms, stems on
*5 tablespoons vegetable oil, as needed
*2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
*1/2 onion, sliced thin
*3 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated
*3 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
*2 tablespoons honey
*6 tablespoons hoisin sauce
*6 tablespoons soy sauce
*1 teaspoon black pepper
*2 tablespoons spicy sesame oil (can use regular sesame oil)
*2 tablespoon cilantro, chopped fine (plus more to garnish)
*1/2 cup water
*2 teaspoons sesame seeds, to garnish (optional)
*rice or soba noodles, prepared according to package instructions
1.) Prep eggplant: remove stems and cut eggplant into 2-inch cubes. Add to a bowl and sprinkle with coarse salt for each layer of eggplant added. Rest eggplant for 10 minutes or until sufficiently covered with moisture. NOTE: this step is absolutely necessary for cooking eggplant and keeping it soft and delicious.
2.) Once your mise en place is ready, warm a wok or large non-stick pan with vegetable oil. Add garlic and stir until fragrant. Add eggplant and mushrooms and coat evenly in vegetable oil. Cook over medium heat for about 5-8 minutes or until eggplant have become soft. Add onions, ginger, and bamboo, and stir evenly together.
3.) In a bowl, whisk together chili garlic sauce, honey, hoisin sauce, and soy sauce. Add black pepper, sesame oil, and cilantro and pour mixture over eggplant mixture. Stir mixture to coat evenly, add 1/2 cup water, mix, and cook for another 5 minutes or until eggplant and mushrooms are sufficiently tender. NOTE: be sure to taste this mixture before you remove it from the stove top. Different palettes will prefer different levels of heat or sweetness. To add more heat, mix in a tablespoon of chili garlic sauce 1 tablespoon at a time. To add more sweetness or salt, do the same with honey or hoisin sauce (for sweetness) or soy sauce (for salt).
4.) Plate spicy eggplant over rice or soba noodles and serve.
Makes 4-5 servings.
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Written by: Helana Brigman