Thai Basil Eggplant – Recipe

Thai Basil Eggplant
Thai Basil Eggplant

The Thai basil situation can be a bit confusing. The herb known specifically as Thai basil, which is what I’ve used in this dish, has purplish stems and green leaves. There is another, significantly different herb called holy basil that is also much loved in Thailand, and it has purple leaves and is incredibly aromatic. Both of these basils are quite different from Italian basil, which I wouldn’t use it in this recipe.┬áThe thing that is great about Thai basil is that it can stand up to a good amount of cooking, so it can be used almost as a vegetable, not just a garnish (although I do also reserve a few leaves for garnish.)

Similarly, you want to make this dish with Asian eggplant, like the long Japanese eggplants that are about 1 1/2″ in diameter. It won’t be as good with an Italian type eggplant, the texture isn’t quite right.

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This is a case where a wok actually works ok without a jet-powered wok burner, because we aren’t really trying to brown the eggplant – so it is fine that there will be several layers and some will be steaming, not all frying at the same time on the hot surface. But you can do this in a large skillet as well.

To break down lemongrass, trim off all but the last 4 inches or so of the stem end, and trim the hard button off the end of the stem. Remove the outermost layer, or maybe two if it is very tough, from the 4 inch piece. Smash the remaining piece with something heavy, like a can of beans, until it is tenderized, then mince.

I’m a little unsure whether to categorize this as a main course or a side dish. I think that I wouldn’t typically have it for dinner by itself with just jasmine rice, but on the other hand it could stand on equal footing with another item like Red Curry Delicata Squash and Tofu, and I wouldn’t automatically consider the latter to be the main course and the eggplant a side dish. I guess that concept just doesn’t apply in the same way.

Thai Basil Eggplant
Vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and kosher
Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as part of a larger spread

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 stalk lemongrass (see above)
  • 1 pound Asian eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 4 medium eggplant)
  • Kosher salt
  • 5 large button mushrooms, sliced 1/4″ thick
  • 1/2 white onion, sliced 1/4″ thick
  • 1 hot chili of your choice (I used jalapeno), thinly sliced (optional)
  • Leaves from 1 big bunch Thai basil (reserve a few for garnish)
  1. Put the oil in a wok or skillet over maximum heat. Add the ginger, garlic and lemongrass and give a quick stir. Immediately add the eggplant and 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. Stir-fry for a minute or so. Add 1/4 cup of water and cover. Cook, checking and stirring every 30 seconds or so, until the eggplant is just about completely tender. You may need to use a little more water.
  2. Remove the lid and add the mushrooms, onion, chili and Thai basil. Stir fry for about 1 minute until the mushrooms are somewhat tender. Taste and adjust seasoning – it probably needs a bit more salt. Served immediately, garnished with the reserved basil leaves.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Monday, July 9th, 2012 in Gluten-Free or modifiable, Main Courses, Recipes, Side Dishes, Vegan or Modifiable.

9 Responses to “Thai Basil Eggplant – Recipe”

  1. July 9, 2012 at 7:23 am #

    I just came from the Asian markets this weekend and I got my fave Japanese eggplants (some recipes call them “Chinese eggplants”,too ) my lemongrass and ginger. But I have to head back right now to get some of the Thai basil after seeing your recipe. Thanks for another great one, Michael. Honestly, I feel much better after a vegetable meal and I really love the unique ideas you give us regularly.

  2. July 9, 2012 at 10:32 am #

    This eggplant sounds well worth the search for Thai basil! (Actually, that shouldn’t be too hard, as we have all kinds of Asian veg and herbs in our local farmer’s market. Hooray for California!)

  3. July 11, 2012 at 3:35 am #

    Delicious recipe using eggplant! I am always stumped trying to find different ways to cook eggplant so my family will eat it. I love it but can’t make it exciting enough for anyone else to love it. I’ll try this out…I like that it isn’t served with mounds of rice…

  4. July 16, 2012 at 6:50 am #

    This is another great way of cooking eggplant. I didn’t know there are many types of basil. I’m going to really look for that Thai basil.

  5. Charis
    August 19, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

    Thanks for a Thai recipe. I’m lucky that our neighborhood farmer’s market has an Asian vegetable stand where I can get a thick bunch of Thai basil for $2.50. This dish would be a great way to use the herb. I keep whatever is left after cooking in a vase with cold water on a sunny windowsill. They keep fresh for weeks and will even sprout.

    On a side note, I’m curious if you ever got around cooking bitter melons and know any good ways to tackle them. As soon as I saw them at the farmer’s market, I couldn’t resist taking them home despite my lack of knowledge and experience with them. I can’t get past the initial bitterness but want to find a way to enjoy it without being overwhelmed.

    • August 20, 2012 at 6:51 am #

      Hey Charis – nope, I’ve done very little cooking with bitter melon. I like a bite or two of it in Vietnamese soups, but I’ve never really bonded with it :).

  6. Kitty Payne
    September 30, 2012 at 12:28 pm #

    I grow this basil in my garden Is it better fresh or dried?

    • September 30, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

      Fresh; for sure. I’ve never heard of Thai Basil or Holy Basil being dried, don’t think it would be much good. Even with Italian basil, the fresh and dried herbs are so completely different. They aren’t really substitutes for each other, they just serve different purposes.

  7. Christine
    September 20, 2013 at 8:45 am #

    Instead of water, you might want to substitute fish sauce for the eggplant steaming part of the recipe, unless you need to have it remain vegan. No additional salt is likely needed afterward if the fish sauce is used, and it rounds out the ‘thai’ flavor, imho.

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