Our summer garden is going gangbusters this year, and we have some surprise Thai basil volunteers that seeded themselves in our bay laurel tree pot. The plants have already gotten huge with fragrant leaves and pretty purple flowers, giving us plenty to cook with. The pungent flavor is a perfect match for this spicy Thai-style eggplant with red peppers and hot chilies, which we also have plenty of in the garden. This is one of my favorite recipes for eggplant, and it’s pretty easy to make. We like this as a side dish for Thai grilled chicken, or it can be a vegetarian main course with brown jasmine rice.
Traditional versions of this dish call for deep frying the eggplant, which is too much oil for our taste, so we use less oil and stir-fry instead. It’s easy to overcook the eggplant, so stir-fry just until it’s fork tender and stir and turn gently, scooping and turning, to keep it from turning mushy. Depending on your heat tolerance, you can adjust the quantity of chilies. The palm sugar (aka jaggery) can be found in international grocery stores, or you can substitute light brown sugar.
SPICY THAI-STYLE EGGPLANT
Serves 4 to 6..
1/4 cup (60 ml) + 2 tablespoons sunflower or canola oil, divided
4 Asian eggplants, (about 1 pound/454 g), cut into wedges
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 fresh red hot chilies, seeds removed and finely chopped
small onion, chopped
1/2 medium red pepper, sliced in thin strips
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon palm sugar or light brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch + 1 tablespoon cold water, stirred
20 leaves fresh Thai basil
1. Heat 1/4 cup of oil in the wok on high heat. Add the eggplant and and stir-fry until the pieces are brown and fork tender, but not mushy, about 4 minutes. Transfer the eggplant to a plate lined with paper towel and drain. Pour off the oil in the wok and wipe it clean.
2. Add the remaining oil to the wok with the garlic and chilies and stir-fry for about 20 seconds. Add the onion and about 3/4 of the red pepper and stir-fry for about 10 seconds. Add the eggplant and stir in the soy sauce, sugar, and water and stir-fry until the liquid is bubbling, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the water and cornstarch mixture and stir in, then add most of the basil leaves. Stir until the sauce thickens, about 1 minute.
3. Transfer to a serving platter and garnish with the remaining pepper strips and basil. Serve immediately.