Eggplant, for me, is one of those foods that I can’t exactly pinpoint in my memory. I know I had it growing up because I knew what an eggplant tasted like and the texture in my mouth, however I can’t remember exact dishes, or a specific time when I had it. I think it might have been because the dish I had wasn’t spectacular but I was impressed by the natural characteristics of the vegetable. Or it may be that I was freakishly born with eggplant knowledge engrained in my head,I don’t know. But in any case I love eggplant.
Eggplant was one of the first ingredients I cooked with. For me it’s a very forgiving ingredient because I love it when it’s still firm with a nice spongy bite and also when it’s soft enough to melt in your mouth. My timing can be a little off, and I’ll still come up with something I like. When I first started to cook it was really great because I only cooked with vegetables. I’m not a vegetarian but I had this fear of cooking with meat. I was really intimidated because I didn’t think that I could even execute a mediocre dish. With meat timing is key. I wasn’t very fast in the kitchen, so I knew everything I made would be too tough and dry. Eggplant is really great because it has a sort of “meaty” substantial quality to it. It’s sturdy and chewy and a little bit stringy at the same time. It’s no real substitute for a nice piece of steak, but I think in comparison to other vegetables it does a pretty good job.
I’ve cooked a lot of eggplant dishes with tomato based sauces, which are excellent, but I decided to go with something Asian inspired by using oyster sauce. Oyster sauce is a great pantry staple to buy because it goes well with so many things: vegetables, meat, fish, rice, and noodles. It is like a surf inspired barbeque sauce without the heat and all the sugar. It’s salty, slightly sweet, a little bit like soy sauce, with a thick viscosity like molasses. Surprisingly the taste is not that overpowering, but maybe that’s just me because I grew up eating Asian food. The dish is just the right combination of savory and sweet. The sugar in the sauce caramelizes a little bit to add that extra depth to the soft and mild natural taste of eggplant. The photo shows cilantro as just a garnish but I ended up mixing in a lot more so that cilantro is included with every bite. It adds a brightness and zip that complements the darker oyster sauce very nicely.
There are a couple of different types of eggplant out there: large, purple, white, small, thin. I used the thinner and smaller kind usually referred to as Asian eggplant. However, you can use whatever variety you can find. It’s eggplant bonanza at the farmer’s markets right now, so pick out the one you think is the shiniest and prettiest.
Eggplant in Oyster Sauce
Serves 2 to 3 people
2 small-medium eggplant
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon sugar, plus more to taste
1/2 tablespoon corn starch
1 tablespoon water
Small bunch cilantro*
Cut the eggplant into bite sized cubes. Salt and let drain in a colander for 15 minutes. Make the sauce by combining oyster sauce, sesame oil, and sugar together. In a separate bowl, stir the corn starch and water until thoroughly mixed together. Add the cornstarch mixture to the oyster sauce.
Heat a large pan with vegetable oil and stir-fry drained eggplant for about 4 minutes or until cooked. Pour the sauce into the pan and quickly mix together. Stir-fry for another minute or two until some of the sugar in the sauce has caramelized.
Tear the cilantro into pieces and mix with the eggplant. Serve immediately.
*If you’re not a cilantro fan substitute with flat leaf parsley.