Thai Spicy Eggplant Stir Fry

June 27, 2014

in Cook What You Like, Main Dishes, Salads and Vegetables, Sides and Ends

Spicy Thai EggplantHave you been putting off your relationship with eggplants?  Do you find yourself looking at them on your kitchen counter without a clue on where to start?

Make this flavorful Thai Spicy Eggplant dish and you and eggplants will be friends forever.  Who knows?  You may end up actually eating the ones you grow.

Eggplants come in a variety of looks – marble-sized spheres, elongated shapes skinny and wide, solid whites, striped greens, and glossy, deep purples.  Eggplants are known in some parts of the world, especially in England, Australia and other British-influenced areas, as aubergines, aptly named for the beautiful dark color.

Eggplant is somewhat like tofu, offers texture but no definitive taste, and relies on other combined flavors.  In this stir-fry, eggplant shares the spotlight with aromatic sweet licorice Thai basil and pungently salty nam pla (fish sauce).  Chili peppers are added for heat.

Thai Basil and Palm SugarDelicately balancing out the dish’s flavors is a small amount of palm sugar.  Usually sold in disk-shaped  pieces, some about 3″ (see photo) and up to 7″ across, or as loose granules in tins, palm sugar is made from the sap of certain palms, boiled down and then allowed to solidify.  Palm sugar is unrefined so each batch varies in sweetness.  Choose palm sugar that’s made in Thailand, lightly golden in color, and not rock hard.

To use, shave palm sugar off the disks with a knife or vegetable peeler.  Or break off a piece or two and pulverize sugar with the butt end of a cleaver or with a mortar and pestle.  Alternatively, pieces can a dissolved in the water used for this recipe’s sauce.  Light brown sugar or white granulated sugar can be substituted; scale back these amounts as palm sugar is less sweet.

Using the stir-fry method of cooking, this dish comes together quickly.  The eggplant is sautéed first as its cooking time is longer from the other ingredients.  Then sauté the garlic and chili pepper to release aromatics, followed by the yellow onion and bell pepper.  Reunite with the eggplant, add sauce ingredients, and just before plating, throw in the basil leaves.

Easily adaptable, this aromatic dish can be made vegetarian by omitting the fish sauce and using gluten-free soy sauce or tamari.  Enhance the dish with protein by sautéing small pieces of chicken, shrimp or fried tofu with the onion and bell pepper.

Recipe: Thai Spicy Eggplant Stir-Fry

Use the slender Asian eggplants for this dish.  Sweet Italian basil can be substituted for Thai basil but the flavor profile will be non-traditional.


  • 2 medium Chinese or Japanese eggplants (about 7″ long and 1 1/4″ diameter)
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, halved and deseeded
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 small chili pepper
  • 1/2 bunch Thai basil
  • 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons palm sugar (substitute with 1 1/4 teaspoon light brown or white granulated sugar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon corn starch
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup uncooked chicken pieces, peeled shrimp or fried tofu cubes
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil


  1. Prepare vegetables: cut off ends of eggplant and cut eggplant into 1 1/2″ angled, irregular chunks.  Slice bell pepper and onion into lengthwise pieces. Mince garlic. Thinly slice chili pepper using as much as you’d like (half of a Thai chili usually provides moderately high heat). Remove leaves from basil stems; discard stems. Set all aside.Cut Eggplant
  2. Make sauce: in a small bowl, stir together soy sauce, fish sauce, palm sugar, corn starch and water. Set aside.
  3. Stir-fry: using a large sauté or frying pan or wok, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over high heat until oil shimmers. Add cut eggplant, stir for a few seconds, lower heat to medium high, add 1-2 tablespoons water, stir, cover and cook for about 30 seconds. Remove cover, stirring occasionally until eggplant is cooked, approximately 2-3 minutes. Eggplant insides will start to look more translucent; remove from pan.
  4. Wipe out same pan if necessary. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over medium high heat until oil shimmers. Add minced garlic and chili pepper and sauté just until garlic starts to turn color, about 30 seconds. Add onion and bell pepper (and protein, if using), sauté until vegetables start to soften, then return eggplant to pan. Stir and add sauce ingredients, continue cooking allowing sauce to slightly thicken. Splash in more water, a tablespoon at a time if sauce is too thick.  Stir in basil leaves before plating.

Serves 3-4  as a main dish with rice and 5-6 as a side dish.

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