I've been on a quest, my friends - a mission to create the loveliest Thai Basil Eggplant dish that's not just good but mind-blowingly, "I-can't-believe-I-made-this" good. Here's what I demanded when setting out to do with this recipe: It had to be a breeze to whip up in less than 30 minutes in one pan, no obscure ingredients, and obviously, it had to taste phenomenal.
Guess what? The mission was seriously accomplished beyond my wildest exceptions. Forget the struggle; this recipe is your golden ticket to eggplant perfection!
Picture this: succulent Chinese or Thai eggplants, cooked until golden and creamy, mingling with aromatic garlic, Thai basil (of course), shallots, and colorful bell peppers, all harmonized by the fiery kick of Bird's eye chilies. This dish is like a flavor explosion that you will want all friggin’ over your khao pad, tom yum fried rice or turmeric rice.
I've cracked the code to create the ultimate Thai Basil Eggplant that hits all the right notes – and the fact that this recipe gets made so quickly, doesn’t make a mess of your kitchen or use more than one pot is a game-changer. So, put on your adorable/embarrassing cooking cap, and let's get ready to unleash some serious aubergine glory in the kitchen.
🥰Why you will adore this recipe
✊Vegan AF and GF: Like all of my vegan Thai recipes, this mildly spicy Thai basil eggplant is made without harming any creatures or giving you high cholesterol. No chicken stock, no shrimp paste, none of that. And this just happens to also be one of my completely gluten-free recipes too!
🔥 Heat-Perfect Cooking Process: I have planned and tested this recipe to work seamlessly on both gas and electric cooktops. No more guessing about uneven heat!
✅ Tested and Approved Worldwide: Rest assured, this recipe isn't just a success in my own kitchen. Like all my vegan recipes, it's also been meticulously tested and approved by a massive crew of recipe testers I work with from all around the planet.
🍆Notable ingredients and substitutions
Whether you opt for the slender Chinese variety (like I use in making ensaladang talong) or the smaller round Thai eggplants (like I use for making sayur lodeh), both deliver a creamy texture when cooked. In Thailand, they're known as "มะเขือเปราะ" (Makheua Proa) or "มะเขือใต้" (Makheua Tai).
Their mild flavor allows them to soak up the savory goodness of the sauce and they both have pretty colors too. Don't have either? You can totes make it with the standard black or purple eggplants that you might normally use to make dishes like Middle Eastern mutabal, Turkish shakshuka and the mezze dish soslu patlican. Keep in mind a single large Italian eggplant can be as big as 3-4 Chinese eggplants.
Shallots add a sweet and mild onion flavor to the mix. Alternatively, red onions (or even boring ol’ yellow onions) work brilliantly. Shallots, or "หอมหัวใหญ่" (Hom Hua Yai) in Thai, offer a nuanced taste, and probably will make you cry a wee bit more than normal onions (sorry about that). They are essential in Southeast Asian dishes like sambal matah, tahu goreng, and sambal dabu dabu.
Distinct from its sweet Italian cousin, Thai basil, or "โหระพา" (Horapha), boasts a peppery, anise-like flavor. It is used all over Thai and Vietnamese cooking in dishes like pad kee mau, goi cuon (rice paper spring rolls), and pad see ew.
Bird's Eye Chilies
Known as "พริกขี้หนู" (Prik Kee Noo) in Thai, these tiny powerhouses bring the heat to dishes like bihun goreng and Filipino tofu sisig. Sliced thinly, they add a flavorful spicy kick to this yummy eggplant dish. Thai bird's eye chilies can be replaced with Jalapeño or serrano peppers for a milder spice, but keep in mind, bird’s eye chilies are around ⅙th the size, so substitute accordingly!
Made from pressed toasted sesame seeds, sesame oil adds a rich, nutty depth to the eggplant. Toasted sesame oil is the same magical substance that lends its powerful aroma to Sundubu Jigae, Korean BBQ Sauce and Goma Dressing. If you are out of sesame oil or have a love/hate relationship with its flavor (like my wife Joey does), you can substitute with olive oil and still make a din din. (Uh, that’s “dinner” in case you were wondering…)
Sambal Oelek, Sriracha or Whatevs...
For that signature kick, sambal oelek or sriracha infuses the sauce with heat. You can also use other Thai spicy sauces like nam prik pao or nam jim jaew to make this dish. Adjust the quantity based on your spice preference.
Adding sweetness, palm sugar is a staple in Thai cuisine, known as "น้ำตาลปี๊บ" (Nam Tan Pib).
I use it to make the Sundanese spiced herbal tea, and it’s the key for making tons of Southeast Asian desserts like klepon, bubur sumsum, and kuih ketayap, to name a few. You can substitute coconut sugar, brown sugar, or even maple syrup to achieve a similar slightly mineral-rich sweetness.
Vegan Fish Sauce
A key umami contributor, vegan fish sauce mimics the traditional version. Substitute with vegetarian oyster sauce (the key to dishes like mie goreng and chee cheong fun), or use homemade nuoc cham to give the dish some more pungent tones.
*See the recipe card at the bottom of the page for exact quantities, nutritional info, and detailed cooking directions.
Isaan-Style Eggplant Thai Basil Stir fry:
For a northeastern Thai twist, inspired by Isaan cuisine, brighten up the flavors of the dish with a dab of hoisin sauce and a drizzle of fresh lime juice and minced cilantro added to the sauce. Or, like I do in my sambal goreng tempeh, add a few whole makrut lime leaves.
Southern Thai Spicy Basil Eggplant:
For this spicy vibe from the southern side of Thailand, infuse the sauce with extra Bird's eye chilies and include a dash of tamarind paste. I like to add a spoonful of tom yum paste, or red curry paste to the shallots when I am cooking them in this style. You can even use a dash of bumbu bali if you want to give it more lemongrass flavor.
📖 How to make perfect Thai Basil Eggplant
Nail this dish like a pro on your first shot by following these step-by-step instructions with helpful tips. Or you can follow along with the easy-to-print recipe card towards the bottom of this page.
Warm oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. After 2 minutes, when the oil is hot, cook sliced Thai or Chinese eggplants (sometimes also called Japanese eggplant) until tender and lightly browned, around 7-8 minutes. Set aside.
In the same pan, add a little extra oil if all was absorbed by the eggplant. Sauté minced shallots or red onion for 4 minutes until fragrant and softened.
Add the garlic, chopped bunch of Thai basil, sliced red and green bell peppers (you can also mess with orange or yellow bell pepper), and Bird's eye chilies. Stir-fry for a few minutes until veggies are cooked but still vibrant.
In a bowl, combine tamari, sesame oil, rice vinegar, sambal oelek or sriracha, sugar, vegan fish sauce, water, and cornstarch. Mix thoroughly using a fork or small whisk until the cornstarch dissolves.
Add the Eggplant, Add Sauce:
Return eggplant to the pan with cooking peppers and onions. Pour the sauce over the sautéing vegetables. Stir well, ensuring even coating, and simmer until the sauce thickens, a couple of minutes.
Serve the creamy eggplant in an attractive serving dish, garnished with fresh Thai basil leaves, thinly sliced Bird's eye chilies, and garlic chives or green onion.
This slammin’ eggplant goes great over rice. Whether it’s fragrant basmati pilau, Indonesian coconut rice, or even kimchi fried rice with a side of pickled burdock or Korean cucumber salad, your eggplant is in super-good hands when it is over rice!
If you are looking for a nice light meal, it goes great served with a southeast Asian salad such as bánh tráng trộn, a Vietnamese rice paper salad that absolutely explodes with textures and tastes. It’s also great with Indonesian salads like urap sayur and Javanese asinan sayur.
Unless you are some kind of renunciate and want to miss out on the best things in life or whatever, you deserve a killer Asian desert to finish up dinner. My top picks to have after this eggplant are Banh Flan, Che Khoai Mon (taro rice pudding), a nice cold slab of Kem Chuoi (vegan banana-coconut ice cream), or cleanse your palate with Chè Ba Màu, a Cold Three-Color Vietnamese Dessert.
- Eggplant Selection is Key: Ensure you choose fresh, firm Chinese or Thai eggplants for the ideal texture. Look for smooth, glossy skin and avoid any that appear wrinkled or have soft spots.
- Optimal Heat Management: No one likes eggplant that’s not fully cooked. The texture is mad weird. It's all about achieving that golden brown tenderness in the initial eggplant cooking. Maintain a consistent medium-high heat, and make sure the eggplant slices aren’t cut too wide for the heat to penetrate.
- Air Fryer Hack: Want to make this dish with less oil? A good quality air fryer makes that a dream come true.
- Preheat your air fryer to 400°F (205°C).
- Toss the eggplant slices in just 2 teaspoons of oil and then arrange them in a single layer, ensuring they don't overlap or crowd the basket.
- If needed, air fry in two batches for even cooking.
- Cook the eggplant in the air fryer for about 12 minutes, flipping them halfway through.
- To check doneness, insert a paring knife; if it easily goes in and out, your eggplant is ready. If not, continue air frying in one-minute increments until tender.
- Then, set the eggplant aside to add it back into the stir fry later on with the sauce.
🤷♀️ Recipe FAQs
Italian basil is a suitable substitute, offering a different but still delightful herbal vibe to the dish.
Some people use holy basil to make this dish, but I personally can’t recommend that for religious reasons.
My family and I are Hare Krishnas, and for us, Tulasi Devi is one of Krishna’s top-most devotees embodied by this sacred plant. So, while we offer her leaves as bhoga to the supreme, we do not chew them. You can learn more about this way of cooking in my sattvic cooking class, or by checking out some of my sattvic recipes.
Certainly, adjust the heat by reducing the quantity of Bird's eye chilies or opting for milder chili varieties to suit your preference. If you hate spicy stuff, you can even leave out the chilies and sambal oelek altogether.
While a good quality wok is a treat to cook with, a large frying pan or Dutch oven works well too. The key is to maintain medium-high heat and avoid overcrowding the pan for effective stir-frying. The wider the pan you use, the more direct contact the ingredients will have with the heat, which makes the cooking a bit faster and better.
This stir fry can be even more nutritious with the addition of some extra veggies. Broccoli, Chinese broccoli, bok choy, snow peas, or steamed slices of kabocha squash add variety and nutrition while maintaining the dish’s savory profile.
You can reduce the oil quantity or use a cooking spray, and use an air fryer for the initial eggplant cooking, but be mindful that a small amount of oil contributes to the dish's overall texture and flavor.
Store your Thai Basil Eggplant in an airtight container in the refrigerator. This dish can be refrigerated for up to three days to allow the flavors to meld and intensify.
🔥 Stovetop Reheating:
Place a pan on medium heat.
Add a splash of water to create steam.
Stir-fry the refrigerated Thai Basil Eggplant until heated through.
Adjust seasoning as needed and enjoy.
🌡️ Microwave Reheating:
Transfer a serving of Thai Basil Eggplant to a microwave-safe dish.
Cover the dish to retain moisture.
Microwave on medium heat for 1-2 minutes, pausing to stir midway.
Check for thorough heating, adjusting if necessary.
Savor the reheated dish.
Reheated leftovers are always a bit less fresh than when first cooked, so make sure to garnish with some fresh herbs and chilies to bring things back to life and make them pretty again.
✌️My faves to serve with this dish:
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Thai Basil Eggplant
- 3 tablespoons canola oil vegetable oil, or sunflower oil
- 3 Chinese eggplants or 7 Thai eggplants cut in long wedges
- ½ cup shallots or red onion, minced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 ½ cup Thai basil chopped
- 1 red bell pepper sliced
- ½ green bell pepper sliced
- 5 Bird’s eye chiles sliced
- Fresh Thai basil leaves
- Thinly sliced bird’s eye chilies to taste
- Thinly sliced garlic chives or green onion
- Heat oil in a large frying pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sliced Chinese or Thai eggplants and cook for 7-8 minutes until tender and slightly browned. Set aside.
- In the same pan, Add a little extra oil if the pan is completely dry and sauté minced shallots or red onion for 4 minutes until fragrant and softened.
- Add garlic, Thai basil, sliced red bell pepper, sliced green bell pepper, and sliced Bird’s eye chilies. Stir-fry for a few minutes until the vegetables are cooked but still vibrant.
- For the sauce, add tamari, sesame oil, rice vinegar, sambal oelek or sriracha, sugar of your choice, vegan fish sauce, water, and cornstarch in a bowl. Mix together using the tines of a fork or a small whisk to completely dissolve the cornstarch.
- Add the eggplant back into the cooking pan with peppers and onions, and pour the sauce over the sautéing vegetables. Stir well to coat evenly and let it simmer for a couple of minutes until the sauce thickens.
- Thai basil leaves, thinly sliced Bird’s eye chilies, and thinly sliced garlic chives or green onion.