This Chinese eggplant recipe features eggplant cooked until caramelized and tender, then covered in a rich and flavorful Asian sauce. After one bite of this deliciously rich and complex dish, you’ll be hooked!
When it comes to Asian food, my family and I will never say no to ordering Chinese takeout. But, even better than that is making restaurant-quality food from the comfort of our own kitchen.
We’ve been loving salt and pepper tofu, chicken chow mein, and egg drop soup. And recently, I’ve been experimenting with this Chinese eggplant recipe, and so far, it’s been a hit!
What is Chinese eggplant?
Chinese eggplant refers to the type of eggplant used in this recipe and how it’s prepared. Unlike Japanese or Italian, Chinese eggplant has fewer seeds and thinner skin. As a result, they require a more delicate cooking process, and they usually cook faster. They are packed with fiber and vitamins (like potassium) and are low in calories.
Why this recipe works
This Chinese eggplant recipe is a great side dish to everything from sesame chicken to beef bulgogi to black pepper chicken. I personally enjoy it all by itself with a little fresh white rice.
- It’s naturally vegan. This recipe has no fish sauce, so it’s 100% vegan. Swap the soy sauce for tamari, and it’s gluten-free too!
- It’s full of flavor. Each bite is absolutely loaded with flavor from the savory and umami-rich brown sauce.
- It has the perfect texture. Like in eggplant curry or sauteed eggplant, the vegetable is cooked until tender, then coated in a sweet and savory sauce which helps to add a nice caramelized crust to the skin.
What I love about this recipe is that it’s surprisingly simple for how elevated it is. If you’ve ever sautéed vegetables before, you can easily make this restaurant-quality dish right at home that tastes incredible.
While the ingredient list may look a little long, it’s mostly made up of seasonings and condiments, which truly lets the Chinese eggplant shine! Here is what you’ll need:
- Chinese eggplant. Cut into small strips.
- Onion. Finely chopped.
- Sesame oil. Used for sautéing the eggplant.
- Vegetable oil. For cooking the rest of the ingredients, vegetable oil is used, so the sesame oil doesn’t become overpowering.
- Garlic cloves. Minced.
- Ginger. Peeled and freshly grated.
- Sesame seeds. For added flavor and texture.
- Tomato sauce. The main component of the sauce.
- Brown sugar. Imparts a necessary sweetness to the dish, though white sugar can be used instead.
- Sriracha. For spicy flavor. This can be increased or omitted.
- Chili garlic sauce. Also known as sambal oelek.
- Soy sauce. For needed umami and savory flavor. This can be swapped for tamari to make it gluten-free. Either low sodium or light soy sauce work too.
for a richer flavor, use dark soy sauce.
- Rice vinegar. For acidity and subtle sweetness.
- Water. Both to add body to the sauce and to make the cornstarch slurry.
- Cornstarch. Combined with water to thicken the sauce.
- Scallions or green onions. Sliced and used for garnish.
How to make Chinese eggplant
As mentioned earlier, making this recipe is easier than you think. There is barely any prep time and it cooks up quickly!
Step 1- Cook the eggplant
Begin by adding the sesame oil to a large non-stick skillet or wok, then place it over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add the eggplant and sauté for 8-10 minutes or until tender. Remove the cooked eggplant from the skillet and set aside.
Step 2- Cook the veggies
Add one tablespoon of vegetable oil, followed by the onion, and cook for 5-6 minutes until the onion becomes translucent. Then, remove the onion from the heat and combine it with the eggplant. To the same skillet, add the remaining oil, followed by the garlic, ginger, and sesame seeds. Sauté this for two minutes until fragrant.
Step 3- Build the sauce
Add the tomato sauce, sugar, Sriracha, sambal oelek, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and water. Let this simmer for 10 minutes over low heat until it begins to thicken. As it’s simmering, combine the cornstarch with the water in a bowl and mix it up until you have a slurry.
Step 4- Combine and assemble the dish
Add the eggplant and onion back to the skillet, followed by the cornstarch slurry. Let everything cook together until thickened.
Once the sauce is nice and thick, remove the dish from the heat and sprinkle the eggplant with a few teaspoons sesame seeds and finely chopped scallions.
- Cut the eggplant into equal-sized slices. So they cook more evenly.
- Save the sauce. Trust me, after one bite, you won’t want any of that delicious sauce to go to waste!
- Serve the eggplant with a side of red chili sauce. In case any of your dinner guests like it spicier.
- For a softer eggplant texture pat dry the pieces of eggplant and increase the cooking time by two minutes.
There are plenty of small tweaks to be made, so you can enjoy this Chinese eggplant differently each time. Here are some suggestions:
- Add bell peppers. Tri-colored bell peppers can sauté with the onions for added flavor and texture.
- Add protein. You can add fried tofu, chicken, or leftover steak (bavette and skirt are best!) to make this dish more of the main course.
- Toast the sesame seeds. For added toasted flavor, toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet for 20-30 seconds before garnishing your finished dish.
To store: Allow the Chinese eggplant to cool completely, then transfer it to an airtight container. Stored in the fridge, the dish will last 3 to 4 days.
To reheat: Transfer leftover eggplant to a skillet over medium heat and cook, while frequently stirring, until it reaches your desired temperature. You can also microwave the leftovers in 30-second intervals, stopping to stir between each.
To freeze: Allow the dish to cool completely, then transfer it to an airtight container and freeze for up to 6 months.
Recommended tools to make this recipe
- Non-stick skillet. This is my go-to skillet that perfectly cooks stir-fries and fast cooking (like sauteing!).
- Wok. The wok is my go-to when cooking Asian-inspired dishes, and this is my tried and tested one.
- Spatula. Non-stick and easy to grip to mix everything.
More easy Asian recipes to try
Frequently asked questions
Not quite. Chinese eggplant has thinner skin, fewer seeds, and is usually a lighter purple color than other types of eggplant. The inside is also different, as it’s more pale in color and sweeter in flavor.
Chinese and Japanese eggplant are pretty similar in size and texture, though the biggest difference is that Japanese eggplant is a darker purple color, while the Chinese variety is more pale purple.
When choosing a Chinese eggplant, look for one that is firm and glossy, with smooth skin and no blemishes or bruises. The eggplant should also feel heavy to hold.
Chinese Eggplant Recipe
- 1 lb Chinese eggplant cut into thin strips
- 1 small onion chopped
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil divided
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tablespoons ginger freshly grated
- 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
- 1/2 cup tomato sauce
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon sriracha
- 2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- Add the sesame oil to a large non-stick skillet or wok and place over medium heat. Add the eggplant and sauté for 8-10 minutes or until tender. Remove from the skillet.
- Add one tablespoon of vegetable oil, add the onion, and cook for 5-6 minutes, until translucent. Remove from the heat and add it to the eggplant.
- To the same skillet, add the remaining oil. Add garlic, ginger, and sesame seeds, and saute for two minutes, until fragrant.
- Add tomato sauce, sugar, Sriracha, sambal oelek, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and water. Simmer for 10 minutes over low heat until it starts to thicken. While that’s simmering, combine the water with cornstarch to make a slurry.
- Add the eggplant and onion back to the skillet, then add the cornstarch slurry. Cook everything together until thick.
- Remove from the heat, sprinkle with sesame seeds and finely chopped scallions.
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