Why It Works
- Coating the eggplant in cornstarch, vinegar, water, and salt prevents browning and helps preserve its vibrant purple color.
- Cooking components in batches keeps the wok hot and prevents unwanted steaming.
One of my favorite ways to eat eggplant is in makheua yao pad tao jiao, a classic Thai-Chinese dish of stir-fried eggplant and minced pork. Flavored with tao jiao (fermented yellow bean sauce), garlic, fresh chiles, and licorice-tasting Thai sweet basil, the straightforward yet aromatic dish is often found at the curry and rice stalls known as khao gaeng, but it’s also commonly made at home.
Wok cooking in Thailand is the result of Chinese influence and it’s become prevalent in modern-day cuisine, although it’s commonly associated with street food and restaurants, particularly the kind of cooking that requires intense heat to produce the smoky flavor known as wok hei. Although home cooks can achieve wok hei in their kitchens, I believe it’s best to leave that to high-powered restaurant wok burners. Instead, I think home cooks should focus on other stir-frying fundamentals, like cooking the ingredients for a dish in smaller batches then combining them at the end, which helps to prevent steaming your ingredients to mush.
For the eggplant, I coat slices in a mixture of cornstarch, white vinegar, water, and salt, which functions as a protective layer that prevents enzymatic browning, a series of chemical reactions that occurs in some foods when their cut surfaces are exposed to air. I then flash fry the eggplant in hot oil to soften it while preserving its vibrant purple hue. Once the eggplant is cooked, I brown the ground pork and toss it with garlic and chiles, then remove the mixture and set it aside to make the sauce—since a standard home stovetop burner can’t bring sauces to a rapid boil like a wok burner would, removing the pork helps prevent it from overcooing. To complete the dish, I bring the umami-packed sauce made with tao jiao, oyster sauce, and soy sauce, along with water and sugar to balance out the flavor, to a rapid simmer, add the eggplant and pork back in, and cook everything together until the sauce is absorbed. Finished with Thai basil for an herbal bite, this dish pairs well with fragrant jasmine rice.
If you’re interested in doubling this recipe, I suggest cooking multiple batches separately. Don’t do it all in one go―this stir-fry pushes the limit of what I recommend cooking in a wok at once, especially on a home stovetop.