Creamy and luscious, stir-fried eggplant with plum sauce is a dish to die for. This recipe shows you how to achieve the desired texture using a minimum of oil.
I almost forgot about plum sauce until the other day a mouth-watering chicken recipe reminded me of this versatile Chinese condiment. It used to be my favourite sauce for eggplant stir-fry.
Last weekend I found some super fresh eggplant at an outdoor market and a jar of plum sauce in the supermarket. We had Stir-fried eggplant with plum sauce (苏梅酱茄子) three days in a row! It was so delicious!
The deep-frying dilemma
I have very sweet memories of eggplant. I remember watching my dad cooking this deep purple vegetable in our tiny kitchen. He would firstly coat it with flour batter and a little ground Sichuan pepper. Then deep-fry it before stir-frying it with garlic, soy sauce, rice wine, etc. He’d always pick up one piece with chopsticks, then gently put in my mouth to taste. I still have a vivid recollection of the simple pleasure I got in those precious moments.
However, as I grew older, deep-fried eggplant became nothing more than a childhood memory, simply because deep-frying is not my preferred cooking method, and I always try to reduce the volume of oil in dishes as much as possible.
Eggplant is, unfortunately, a vegetable often cooked in quite a lot of oil in order to achieve a softer, creamier texture. If stir-fried with just a little oil, it often stays hard and rubbery, very unpleasant to eat.
The pre-cooking method
For me, it was a real dilemma until I discovered two methods to change the texture of eggplant by pre-cooking it before stir-frying.
- Firstly, I tried steaming and it worked! If you get the timing right, eggplant pieces will come out soft but not too mushy. You might find it a bit watery, but the moisture will be easily evaporated during stir-frying.
- The second method it to microwave, which will give eggplant a nice texture and is less watery than steaming. It is worth noting that you need to cook the chunks in small volumes each time otherwise you might find them softened unevenly. With pre-cooked eggplant in hand, what you need is just one tablespoon of oil for making this scrumptious dish.
A great sauce to season
Apart from a creamy texture, a rich sauce is the other key to a delicious eggplant stirfry. Plum sauce is often used as a dipping sauce for deep-fried dishes like spring rolls. It’s sweet, fruity, vinegary and a little spicy. I find it ideal for vegetables like eggplant which doesn’t have a distinct taste on its own.
I also use lots of garlic in my recipe as it’s the classic company for eggplant. Other ingredients, such as soy sauce, rice wine, ginger and scallions, are used to balance the sweetness of the plum sauce and to create a more sophisticated flavour. Adding an extra zing to this dish, fresh chilli is optional but highly recommended.
Stir-fried eggplant with plum sauce (苏梅酱茄子)
Pre-cook the eggplant (see note 1)
- Option A: Steaming. Boil the water first then place the eggplant chunks into the steamer. Cook for 3-4 mins. Discard any water.
- Option B: Using a microwave. Place the eggplant chunks evenly on a plate in a single layer. Microwave on full power for 2 minutes. You'll need to cook them in two batches (see note 2).
Stir-fry the dish
- Mix plum sauce, soy sauce, rice wine and water. Set aside.
- Heat up oil in a wok (or a deep frying pan) over high heat. Add ginger and garlic, let it sizzle for 10 seconds or so. Then put the eggplant in. Stir from time to time until it becomes a little brown.
- Turn the heat down to low. Pour the sauce then sprinkle scallions and chilli over the aubergine. Stir until the eggplant is evenly coated with the sauce. Serve immediately with plain rice.