Sweet and Sour Eggplant
Chicago’s relatively new but already adored restaurant Giant serves “simple, delicious (slightly cheffy) food” that people absolutely love. If you can’t make it to Logan Square to try it first-hand, make their sweet and sour eggplant at home and you’ll get it. Tangy, deeply savory, sweet, spicy, and just the right amount of salty, this complex and fragrant dish is simply fantastic. The recipe has been adapted to use standard home kitchen measurements instead of the precise gram weight measurements they use at the restaurant, but otherwise it’s been left alone. You’ll need a deep, heavy-bottomed pot and a thermometer for deep-frying, plus a spider to lift the eggplant from the hot oil. You can find fermented soybean paste sold as doenjang at Asian markets or online, and can find gochujang online or in Asian markets as well (or even in your supermarket if you’re lucky).
For more way-better-than-takeout dishes you can make at home, get our Chicken Pad Thai recipe, and our Spicy Snow Pea and Sesame Stir-Fry recipe.
- 1 pound Japanese eggplant, sliced 2 inches thick
- 3/4 cup sweet yellow onion, sliced 2 inches thick
- 1 cup plums, just ripe, halved with the pit removed
- 3 1/2 tablespoons garlic, peeled and sliced thick
- 1/2 tablespoon lemongrass, just the tender part, sliced thin
- 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- 2 scallions, green and white parts, sliced thick
- 1 fresh Thai bird chili, whole, tied in a cheesecloth sachet (don’t substitute dried)
- 5 tablespoons gochujang
- 2 tablespoons soybean paste, fermented with mushroom if you can find it
- 1 cup rice wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon Chinese hot mustard powder
- 3 tablespoons tamari
- 3 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon cilantro or green coriander leaf, chopped
- peanut oil, canola oil, or vegetable oil for deep frying, as needed
- chopped roasted peanuts for garnish
1In a wide, heavy bottomed pot heat a few tablespoons of the peanut oil until it is almost smoking.
2Add the ginger, garlic, lemongrass, and scallion all at once.
3Let it sizzle for a few seconds and then move it around briskly (so cheffy) with a wooden spoon. Don’t let it burn or else a puppy will die.
4Add the soybean paste and gochujang and continue to not kill puppies.
5Once it smells deep and caramelized add the rice vinegar, sugar, and hot mustard.
6Whisk all of the ingredients together and add the sachet of the chili. Bring to a boil.
7Turn down to a simmer and cook until the mixture thickens noticeably.
8Turn off and let rest.
9Fill another pot 1/4 of the way with oil and heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
10In batches, being very careful not to let the oil boil over, fry the eggplant and onions until golden brown.
11Remove them from the oil with a spider and place directly into the marinade.
12Once all of the eggplant and onions are in the marinade, transfer to a non reactive dish and let come to room temperature.
13Add the fish sauce, tamari, sesame oil, and coriander/cilantro.
14Remove the sachet of Thai chili and give it a good squeeze to get all of the juice out of it.
15In a small skillet, heat a few tablespoons of oil and cook the plums, cut side down, until they are almost black. Cut them into large dice and add to the eggplant.
16Let sit for a few hours before serving.
17If refrigerating, make sure to let it come to room temperature before serving.
18Garnish with chopped peanuts and fresh cilantro.
Recipe adapted from Giant, reprinted with permission. Photo by Anjali Pinto.
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