Eggplants are some of the most unique and interesting vegetables. Many of us in the States are only familiar with the large and bulbous globe variety. But there are many more to be found elsewhere in the world. Eggplants, also called aubergines, are native to Asia with many different varieties found throughout the continent. Asian eggplants come in many different shapes, colors, and sizes. Some berries—as they are botanically referred to—are thin and long, others short and spherical. Colors range from white and green to purple and almost black with some even striped. A thinner skin and milder flesh make the Asian varieties much more prized than the oftentimes bitter globe.
You don't have to go all the way to Asia to find some amazing specimens. Many are available in Asian markets, farmers' markets, and even as plants in garden nurseries. I've found many in my local international market, such as the small Indian variety, which I used in this green curry. For this stir-fry recipe I use the long Japanese variety. I quickly toss chunks of eggplant in a hot wok and add a sweet-tart sauce, chile pepper, and Thai basil. The dish makes a wonderful appetizer or vegetarian main course when served with rice. A fast meal with fresh vegetables is the best way to enjoy the bounties of summer.
This year I am growing two long Asian eggplant varieties, the Japanese Ichiban (pictured) and the Taiwanese Pingtung. Both are beautifully colored, the Japanese being the darkest. I love all the different types, but what makes the slender ones so special is their near absence of seeds and sweet, tender spongy flesh. They work great in curries and in stir-frys. If you can't find them, substitute the Italian variety, which is stouter and thinner than the globe but with the same deep color. Give any of these unique varieties a try and, if you're so inclined, plan to grow some in the garden next year. There's nothing more pleasing than cooking with a freshly picked vegetable.
3 tablespoons rice wine
3 tablespoons coconut water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon lime juice (about 1/2 lime)
3 tablespoons canola oil, divided
2 Asian eggplants (about 1 pound), sliced lengthwise and cut into half moons
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon grated ginger (about 1/2-inch piece)
1 garlic clove, grated
1 red chile pepper, thinly sliced
1/4 cup Thai basil leaves, torn, plus more for garnish
2 scallions, julienned, plus more for garnish
lime wedges, for serving
In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine rice wine, coconut water, soy sauce, rice-wine vinegar, honey, and lime juice.
Warm 1 tablespoon oil in a well-seasoned wok or nonstick sauté pan set over medium-high heat. Once oil is hot, add half the eggplant and sauté, moving around the pan quickly until softened and skin is blistered, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove to a plate. Add 1 tablespoon oil, sauté remaining eggplant, season, and reserve on plate.
Warm remaining 1 tablespoon oil in wok. Add ginger and garlic, sauté 1 minute. Pour in sauce and cook until thickened and sticky. Return eggplants and stir until sauce is absorbed. Add chile, basil, and scallions; toss to incorporate. Divide stir-fry among bowls and garnish with additional basil and scallion. Serve with wedges of lime. Yield: 2 to 3 servings.