Not everyone is an eggplant lover. But this eggplant recipe may change that. Long, slender Asian eggplant are no-fuss, and soak up the spicy, sweet, sticky sauce they're doused with when creamy and tender. This is a hearty, gluten-free, vegetarian main course paired with brown rice, quinoa or even wheat berries, but would also make a terrific side dish.
4 tablespoons coconut or canola oil, divided
2 pounds Asian eggplant (any variety), cut into 3/4 chunks
6 cloves garlic, sliced
1 (1-inch) knob of ginger, peeled and minced
1-2 serrano chiles, minced (optional)
1/4 cup palm or cane sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup water
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro, divided
2 tablespoons roughly chopped Thai or Italian basil, divided
Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add eggplant and toss quickly to coat evenly with the oil. Cook 8-10 minutes, tossing and flipping occasionally with a stiff spatula, until just tender and charred in some places. Turn into a large bowl.
Lower heat to medium. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan along with garlic, ginger and chile. Saute 30 seconds, until fragrant. Sprinkle sugar and fish sauce over top and swirl in water. Bring to a boil and cook for 3-5 minutes, until the consistency of syrup (thick enough to coat the back of a spoon). Season with a couple turns of freshly ground black pepper.
Return eggplant to the pan and toss several times to coat with the sauce. Toss with half the cilantro and basil, transfer eggplant to a serving bowl, and top with remaining herbs.