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. The 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)
- 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.
- 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.