Chinese Eggplant With Garlic Sauce
Chinese eggplant with garlic sauce is a true Chinese classic that is super flavorful and deeply satisfying. Melt-in-your-mouth tender eggplant is coated in a tangy, garlicky eggplant sauce that’s sweet, a bit spicy, tangy, and sour.
Follow my tips to make cooking eggplant easy, retaining its vibrant purple color without becoming oily. No need to steam or deep fry! Everyday ingredients give this dish its authentic flavor. If you love eggplant, check out my Chinese steamed eggplant salad, too!
How to prepare Chinese eggplant
Chinese eggplants have a mildly sweet flavor that’s not bitter, making them ideal for Asian eggplant recipes. You can find them at Chinese, Japanese, or Korean grocery stores. Here are some methods for success when cooking Chinese eggplant:
- Should you salt the eggplants?
- Chinese eggplants taste sweeter and less bitter than other types of eggplant so this step isn’t necessary.
- However, if they are off-season (in winter) eggplants might taste more bitter. Salting them will help remove the bitter flavor.
- If you prefer a creamier texture, salting the eggplants also helps break down some of the fibers so the texture will be softer.
- Soak the eggplants
- Soaking the eggplants in water will help them absorb less oil later on.
- Soak the eggplants in a vinegar water solution for 5-10 minutes also helps preserve the beautiful purple eggplant color after they are cooked.
- Pat them dry
- When you salt or soak the eggplants before cooking, make sure you pat them dry (no need to rinse them again after salting) before adding seasonings.
Eggplant with garlic sauce (called yu xiang qie zi in Chinese) is a Chinese eggplant recipe from Sichuan province. Although “yu xiang qiezi” literally means “fish fragrant eggplant”, it contains no fish at all. Yuxiang sauce tastes savory, sweet, tangy, and a little spicy. Here are the ingredients to make the perfect yu xiang eggplant!
For the eggplants:
- Chinese eggplants: Look for long and slender Chinese eggplants with a firm texture, glossy smooth skin, no bruises, and feel heavy to their weight.
- Water and white vinegar: You can also use rice vinegar. The vinegar water solution helps retain the eggplant’s purple color.
- Tapioca starch: You can also use arrowroot, cornstarch, or potato starch.
For the ground meat:
- Ground pork: Pork gives a natural sweetness and added umami flavor to this dish. If you don’t eat pork, you can also use ground chicken. You can also make this dish meatless.
- Avocado oil, salt, and pepper
- Mirin or Chinese rice wine (optional): If you cannot have alcohol, you can use chicken stock.
- Fresh garlic cloves and spring onions
- Chinese dry red chili peppers: They are used whole with the seeds inside. Dried red chilis mainly add color to the dish and are not very spicy.
For the garlic sauce:
- Chicken stock, rice vinegar, and grated garlic
- Coconut aminos: You can substitute soy sauce if you tolerate soy.
- Aged balsamic vinegar: This gives a sweet and tangy flavor to the dish. You can also use Chinese black vinegar.
Substitutions and variations
- Other types of eggplants: Japanese eggplant or Taiwanese ping tung long eggplant are the best substitutes. Italian eggplant or graffiti eggplant have edible skins but the flavor is less sweet. Globe eggplants have thick skin that must be peeled and seeds must be removed.
- Soy sauce: If you use light or dark soy sauce, reduce the amount to 2.5 tbsp and balance the salty flavor with a touch of sugar.
- Chinese vinegar: You can use Chinese Zhenjiang vinegar (also known as Chinkiang vinegar) to replace aged balsamic vinegar.
- No alcohol: Substitute the Mirin with chicken stock
- Make it spicier: To make this a spicy eggplant recipe, add some of my garlic chili sauce for a chili garlic eggplant variation.
- Eggplant with oyster sauce: For extra flavor and aroma, add a touch of grated ginger and vegan oyster sauce to the garlic sauce.
- Sesame flavor: Drizzle the dish with toasted sesame oil before serving.
- Make it vegetarian: Omit the ground meat in the recipe but keep the aromatics — garlic, chili peppers, and spring onions.
How to cook Chinese eggplant with garlic sauce
This healthy Chinese eggplant recipe is a staple in Chinese households. Here are the instructions to make an authentic version of this iconic Chinese stir fry eggplant dish.
- Slice and quarter the eggplants. Rinse and pat them dry.
- Soak the eggplants (optional). Put the vegetables in a water and vinegar solution, using a plate to weigh them down. Soak for 10 minutes and then pat dry and toss them with starch.
- Prepare the aromatics and sauce. Grate the garlic, set aside red chilies, and combine the garlic sauce in a small bowl.
- Cook the meat. Add meat to a hot pan or wok with salt, pepper, and mirin. Add in the garlic and dry chilies and fry the ground meat for an additional minute over medium-high heat.
- Fry the eggplant. Push the meat aside and add the eggplant to the skillet to fry.
- Add the sauce and simmer. Make sure the eggplant is covered in the sauce before covering the pan with a lid. Let simmer, stirring occasionally until the eggplant is tender.
- Serve. Transfer to a large serving bowl and garnish with scallions. Serve warm with a bowl of steamed rice.
If you’re in a hurry, you can skip soaking the eggplants and coating them with starch. You can thicken the sauce by making a slurry with 2 tsp starch mixed with 2 tbsp cold water. Pour the mixture into the pan at the very end before turning off the heat and stir the pot for 10-15 seconds to thicken the sauce.
Soaking the eggplants will reduce the need to use a larger amount of oil because eggplants like to “drink up” a lot of oil.
Can I use other types of eggplants?
Chinese long purple eggplant has a thinner skin and fewer seeds than other variations. Their sweet and mild flavor is ideal for this dish, so it’s best to use Chinese eggplants for an authentic taste. You can also use Japanese eggplants, which also have thin skin and a mild and sweet flavor.
If you use Italian or graffiti eggplants or globe eggplants, the flavor will taste a little different. These eggplants are less sweet and have more seeds. You should salt the eggplants to draw out the bitterness and remove the skin and seeds before cooking.
How to make ahead, store, and reheat
This recipe for eggplant in garlic sauce is best enjoyed fresh, but the sauce can be prepared ahead of time.
- Make-ahead: Follow step 3 of the recipe to prepare the sauce 1-3 days in advance.
- Storage: Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 to 4 days.
- Reheat: Microwave on medium power for 1.5 to 2 minutes total, stirring the food halfway through. For stovetop, heat over medium-low to medium heat. Stir often with a wooden spoon.
What to serve with yu xiang eggplant
This quintessential garlicky Chinese eggplant dish is usually served with rice (to soak up the sauce) and can be accompanied by any number of sides. Here are some yummy pairing suggestions for this recipe:
- Grains: Air fryer rice (recipe coming soon!) is an easy option. Or get fancy with these 15-minute garlic chili noodles. Kelp noodles are a great low-carb option!
- Vegetarian protein: If you omitted the meat option, try my crunchy salt and pepper tofu air fryer recipe for a vegetarian-friendly topper.
- Veggie sides: Pair with my classic Chinese smashed cucumber salad or these Chinese garlic green beans.
- Stir-fries: While the pan is still hot, whip up a quick bok choy stir fry or give my stir fried Chinese broccoli recipe a try.
Tips for success
- Choose the Right Eggplant: Chinese eggplants are longer and thinner than other varieties, and they have a more tender skin and sweeter flesh. If you can’t find Chinese eggplants, Japanese eggplants are the best alternative.
- Soaking the Eggplant: Soaking the eggplants in a vinegar water solution for 5 to 10 minutes will not only help preserve the purple color but keep them from soaking up too much oil.
- Coat the eggplant with starch: After you pat dry the eggplants, lightly coat them with a thin layer of starch. This will give the surface a more crisp texture.
- Cooking the Eggplant: Use a non-stick pan and be gentle so that it won’t stick to the pan.
- Prepare the Garlic Sauce Ahead of Time: You can prepare the sauce ahead of time and store it in a separate small container in the fridge.
- Use Fresh Garlic: Fresh ingredients can make a significant difference in flavor. Minced fresh garlic will provide a brighter and more potent taste.
- Don’t Overcook the Eggplant: Pay attention to your cook time and the stovetop temperature. The eggplants are cooked when you can easily poke them through with a chopstick. Eggplants will turn mushy if you overcook them.
- Garnish: Top with fresh green onions for a finishing touch.
- Serving: Serve hot over rice or noodles to make it a complete meal.
- Vegetarian: You can make this dish vegetarian-friendly by skipping the ground meat. Do keep the garlic, chili peppers, and scallions in the stir fry.
Soaking eggplant before cooking helps to reduce oil absorption. This is because the air bubbles inside the eggplants like to soak up oil. Western eggplants also have a more bitter flavor than Chinese eggplants so soaking them before cooking might help remove the bitter flavor. Make sure you pat dry the eggplants with a clean paper towel before cooking.
Yes, the skin of Chinese eggplant is tender and entirely edible. Unlike the thicker skin of some Western eggplants, Chinese eggplant’s skin cooks down to a soft texture, so there’s no need to peel it. It also adds color and additional nutrients to the dish. The skin is usually included in traditional Chinese eggplant dishes.
Chinese eggplants have a long and thin shape. The skin color is pale purple color and with a sweet, delicate flavor. Japanese eggplants are similar in shape but a little bit shorter and the skin color is darker. They also have a slightly more robust flavor and thicker skin. Both varieties are less bitter and have fewer seeds than typical Western eggplants. They are great substitutes for one another.
Yes, you can substitute Western eggplants. However, using Italian, graffiti, or globe eggplants will result in a slightly different flavor, as these eggplants are less sweet and contain more seeds. I recommend salting them to eliminate the bitterness as well as peeling off the skin and removing the seeds before cooking.
Chinese eggplant with garlic sauce recipe
For the eggplants:
- 1 lb Chinese eggplants, 2 long eggplants
- 3 cups water, optional
- 3 tbsp white vinegar, optional
- 2-2.5 tbsp tapioca starch, optional
For the ground meat:
- Slice off the tip ends of the eggplants. Rinse and pat dry. Slice the eggplant crosswise into 2.5-inch sections then quarter each section lengthwise.
- [optional] In a large bowl, add the eggplants and fill the bowl with tap water. Place a plate up-side-down on top of the eggplants to help them submerge under the water. Soak for 10 minutes. After soaking, pat them dry and toss them with starch.
- In the meantime, prepare the garlic, set aside red chilies, and combine the garlic sauce in a measuring cup.
- In a well-heated large non-stick saute pan, add 1 tbsp oil, fry the meat over medium-high heat until it’s cooked through and break up to fine pieces, about 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and mirin, and add-in the garlic and dry chilies. Fry the ground meat for 1 more minute.
- Push the meat to the side of the pan, add the eggplants and the remaining 2 tbsp oil, and season with another pinch of salt. Fry the eggplants over medium-high heat for 3 minutes.
- Pour in the garlic sauce. Gently push the eggplants down to touch the liquid. Cover with a lid. Lower the heat to medium and simmer for 3-4 minutes until the eggplants are soft and cooked through, stirring every 2 minutes. Turn off the meat.
- To serve: Transfer them to a large serving bowl and garnish with scallions. Serve warm with a bowl of steamed rice.
- If you’re in a hurry, you can skip soaking the eggplants and coating them with starch. You can thicken the sauce by making a slurry with 2 tsp starch mixed with 2 tbsp cold water. Pour it into the pan at the very end before turning off the heat and stir the pot for 10-15 seconds to thicken the sauce.
- Soaking the eggplants will reduce the need to use a larger amount of oil because eggplants like to drink up a lot of oil.
- The mirin and Chinese dry red chili peppers are optional. The chilies are used for colors as they are used whole and not cut up. They also add a hint of spicy flavor. You can substitute with ⅛ tsp of Korean red pepper flakes – gochugaru – for a similar flavor.
- You also use ground chicken, turkey, or beef. The flavor will be slightly different but still delicious.
- If you use Italian or graffiti eggplants or globe eggplants, the flavor will taste a little different. These eggplants are less sweet and have more seeds. You should salt the eggplants to draw out the bitterness and remove the skin and seeds before cooking.
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