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I have always been mixed on eggplant. The outside is great but I never was excited by what I had to work with in the middle. I mean it was this bulbous fruit (yes it is indeed a fruit) with a white, not super flavorful, oddly textured interior. When I cooked with it I would remove most of the middle and only worked with an inch around the outside. This seems like such a waste to me and I don’t like to eat anything where I feel I am wasting a lot of it. As a result, I never wanted to plant or buy any of them.
The CSA has changed all that by introducing me to Ichiban (also known as Japanese) eggplant. These eggplants are part of slim-cultivar group of eggplant and are exactly what I want in my eggplant, they are only about 1 inch wide with very little sides and inside white flesh. They have expanded my eggplant world. I now am excited when I see eggplant in the CSA and have tried many different recipes with it. This year though I finally settled on my all time favorite eggplant recipe. This recipe is spicy, sweet, salty and savory and pairs perfectly with rice. I have already made it 4 times this summer (I would make it more but that is only as much eggplant as we have received from the CSA 😞) and after tweaking it a little each time I can say it is pretty much perfect and has become kind of a thai and korean fusion dish.
This dish is super flexible. It can be made without chicken and be vegetarian. If you do this I would suggest putting an additional vegetable in there at a smaller amount than the eggplant. The recipe that was the inspiration for this dish uses bell pepper and that works great. You can also use tofu rather than chicken. If you do I would suggest you follow the cooking style for the crispy tofu I describe in the Wilted Spinach and Crispy Tofu Salad but you can also use the less involved method I used in the Tofu Lettuce Wraps recipe.This is a great side dish this way.
If you don’t have thai basil you can use other basils but that flavor will be rather different. I grow thai basil (8 plants this year!) which is how I always have a ton on hand. I highly recommend growing it if you can. It doesn’t grow bitter when itk flowers like other basils, smells great, and the bees LOVE it. I grow it in between my peppers. If you do not have ichiban/Japanese eggplant you can also use traditional oval eggplant. I would suggest cutting it in quarters length wise and removing most of the seeds in the middle then working with it.
Chicken & Eggplant with Thai Basil
This recipe is heavily modified from Korean Stir-Fried Eggplant by Season with Spice. Makes enough for 3-4 people.
1 pound of chicken thigh
2 teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons water
3 ichiban (Japanese) eggplants
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 green onions, chopped, whites and greens separated
1-2 cups thai basil leaves
3 teaspoons chili pepper flakes
– my favorite mix is 1 ½ teaspoons japanese chili flakes and 1 ½ teaspoons korean chili flakes (gochugaru). However any chili pepper flakes will work in this recipe.1I get the Korean chili flakes at my “local” h-mart and the Japanese chili flakes I pick up in bulk from a Japanese super market when I visit my parents. Amazon has some but I have not personally tried them so I can’t vouch for them. These gochugaru seem to be well rate. I can’t find the Japanese ones that I use.
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
2 ½ tablespoons fish sauce
1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon ketcap manis also known as sweet soy sauce2If you don’t have access to ketcap manis there are blogs like this one that describe how to make it yourself!
2 teaspoon corn starch (optional for thicker sauce)
1 teaspoons sesame oil
- Preheat the oven to 450° F (230° C). While oven is heating up, prep chicken by removing fat and cutting the chicken thigh in bite sized pieces. Place in a bowl then add 2 teaspoons soy sauce and 2 teaspoons water. Massage with your hand for a minute or so until most of the liquid seems to be taken up by the chicken. Set aside.
- Cut the eggplant. Do this by slicing the eggplant in half lengthwise then slicing into good bite sized sections (about and 1 inch or a little more long). Place in bowl, drizzle with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, and salt then toss. Place evenly on baking sheet then place in the oven for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes remove from oven and flip each eggplant piece. Place back in oven and cook for 10 more minutes. Remove and set on counter.
- Mix together sesame seeds and chili flakes in a bowl, set aside. Mix together ingredients for the sauce, set aside.
- While the eggplant is cooking (or after it is done), place a cast iron skillet, wok, or other pan on medium high. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Once the oil is heated add in chicken. Cook chicken until 90% cooked through flipping as needed, about 5 minutes depending on thickness of chicken, then add in garlic and the whites of the onion (if you are using another vegetable add in here). Cook for another minute then add in the sesame seed chili flake mixture. Cook for another minute or until the the chili becomes fragrant.
- Add in eggplant stir then add in sauce. The sauce has cornstarch so it will thicken and coat the chicken and eggplant quickly, about 1 to 2 minutes. Once the sauce is to your liking remove from heat and add in thai basil leaves. Stir.
- Place in serving dish or individual plates and garnish with the greens of the green onion.
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