When I was in university, I used to eat out a lot, and one of my favourite restaurants was Thai Basil on Bloor Street. They make this eggplant dish with minced pork in a ridiculously salty but delicious sauce with garlic, chili, fermented beans, and, of course, Thai basil. I was OBSESSED with this dish. I never ordered anything else off their menu, and I definitely didn’t want to share with anyone.
Since going vegan, I’ve been able to order a version of Thai basil eggplant without the pork, but I still craved that chewy, salty texture. I also wanted to recreate the dish with a little less oil – the eggplants are traditionally deep fried and then another 17,000 litres of oil is used in the sauce. It’s delicious, of course, but I’d rather keep my arteries clear.
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My version of Thai basil eggplant is a little healthier as I opted to pan fry the eggplant, the oil in the actual sauce is minimal, and I use textured vegetable protein instead of pork (you can buy the brand of TVP I use here). To stay as true as possible to the original, I use authentic Asian ingredients which means you may have to make a trip to your local Asian grocer, though many large-chain groceries are quite diverse in their offerings. Asian eggplants will be everywhere, as will Thai red chilis, but you may need to do some hunting for the Thai basil, vegan oyster sauce, and the black bean garlic paste. I personally find these ingredients to be valuable in any pantry as they are used in a lot of Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese dishes.
So. Once you’re all stocked up on Asian ingredients, the first step is to pan-fry the eggplant. You coat the bottom of a non-stick pan with oil, and you fry the eggplants skin-side down first. This helps retain the purple colour of the eggplant so it doesn’t turn an unappealing shade of brownish grey. You can see in the picture below that the sides of the eggplant that weren’t in direct contact with oil are brown. Frying them skin-first also ensures the eggplant flesh doesn’t immediately suck up all the oil; they are like literal sponges when it comes to oil.
Once your eggplants have fried, you get working on some onions, and while that cooks, you whisk together the sauce. It’s full of umami-rich ingredients like soy sauce, vegan oyster sauce, vegan fish sauce, sesame oil, and black bean garlic paste. When the onions are nice and golden, you throw in your rehydrated textured vegetable protein with a little sauce, and then the pre-cooked eggplants along with the fresh Thai basil and the rest of the sauce. I should note that Thai basil is not exactly like the basil found in most backyard gardens. Thai basil is much more aromatic and pungent, and in addition to its strong basil flavour, it also has a slight liquorice undertone. And the leaves are much hardier than traditional basil as well. You absolutely could use regular basil, but you won’t get much of a strong flavour.
The eggplant only needs to cook for an additional 10-15 minutes before it’s fully tender and juicy and saturated with sauce. Serve it on top of some fragrant jasmine rice and you’re all set!
This Thai Basil Eggplant is so incredibly delicious. It’s salty, savoury, slightly sweet, spicy, chewy, and creamy. Everything you could ever want wrapped into one perfect Asian dish. I really hope you’ll give this recipe a try! Drop me a line in the comments to let me know what you think!