Red-braised eggplants is ultra-delicious in a rich chili and garlic sauce. Made under 30 minutes, this dish is perfect for weeknight dinners. This Chinese eggplant recipe was originally written for my cookbook, Vegan Chinese Cookbook.
This is a classic dish enjoyed across China in both homes and restaurants. The tender eggplants are cooked to perfection and glazed in a spicy, sweet, and savoury sauce. This sauce also gives the dish a dark reddish-brown colour, a cooking technique famously known as red-braising or red-cooking. This dish is known in Chinese as hong shao qie zi (红烧茄子), while hong shao translates to “red-braised” and qie zi means “eggplant”.
Chinese Eggplant Recipe Prep Tips
In order to make this red-braised Chinese eggplant recipe properly, there are a few important prep techniques to note. The following images illustrate the key steps.
- This is an illustration of roll-cutting. From page 6 of Vegan Chinese Cookbook: “In this technique, the ingredient is first cut at an oblique angle, somewhere between 45 and 60 degrees. Then, using your other hand, you roll the ingredient over 90 to 180 degrees and make another diagonal cut. This diagonal cutting and rolling will result in a piece whose two sides have different angles (not parallel to one another). You then continue this process for the length of the ingredient.”
- Salting the eggplants does a few things: It draws out moisture from the eggplants; it gives the eggplants some salty flavour; and it makes cooking through the eggplants easier and reduces the amount of oil needed.
- I highly recommend preparing the sauce mix and thickener before cooking the eggplants. Chinese wok cooking is usually fast-paced, and requires frequent stirring of the ingredients. Therefore, prepping ahead of time is necessary for ensuring a manageable workflow. For this dish, we need to make one sauce for braising and one thickener. The sauce for braising consists of light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sugar, shaoxing wine and water. The thickener consists of cornstarch and water.
- After salting the eggplants for 10 minutes, squeeze as much moisture out of the eggplants as possible. Discard the liquid.
How to Cook Chinese Eggplants
This particular Chinese eggplant dish uses a cooking technique called red-braising or red-cooking. It features a dark reddish-brown sauce (see prep step 3 above) coating the ingredients. The eggplants are braised in this sauce mix. The following images illustrate the cooking process.
- Heat the oil over high heat until the oil begins to smoke.
- Add the eggplant and stir for 1 minute.
- Then add the garlic and chili and stir for 1 minute.
- Add the sauce and continue stirring for another 2 minutes. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir for 1 minute to thicken the sauce.
Adapting The Recipe for Gluten-Free
Most gluten-free soy sauces and tamari (typically gluten-free, but you should double-check the label) are similar to Chinese light soy sauce in flavour. Although not impossible, it will be harder to find a gluten-free dark soy sauce. If you don’t have a gluten-free dark soy sauce, to make this dish gluten-free, simply replace both light soy sauce and dark soy sauce with gluten-free soy sauce or tamari.
Vegan Chinese Eggplant Recipe
This classic Chinese eggplant dish is naturally vegan. You can find the recipe in chapter 4, “Soups, Stews, and Braises”, of my Vegan Chinese Cookbook. Red-braised eggplants is so flavourful and makes a substantial main dish for anyone who wants to eat more vegetables or is on a plant-based diet.
More Plant-Based Favourites from Vegan Chinese Cookbook:
- Chinese Scallion Pancakes (葱油饼)
- Eight Treasure Congee (八宝粥)
- Mung Bean Cakes (Gluten-Free, Vegan, 3 Ingredients)
- Vegan Mapo Tofu
- Vegan Fried Rice with Cumin and Potato
- Smacked Cucumber Salad
Chinese Red-Braised Eggplants
- 3 medium Chinese eggplants approx. 1lb 5oz or 595g per 3 eggplants
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 2 tablespoons Chinese light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
- 4 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/4 cup canola oil (see notes)
- 6 garlic cloves minced
- 2 fresh bird's eye chilies cut into thin rings
- 1 tablespoon sliced scallion
- Roll-cut the eggplants (see page 6) into 3-inch-long pieces about 1 inch thick. In a large bowl, toss the eggplant pieces with the salt and let them rest for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sugar, wine, and 1/4 cup water to make a sauce. In another small bowl, mix the cornstarch and 1/2 cup of water together to make a thickener.
- Squeeze the salted eggplant to release as much moisture as possible. Set the eggplant aside.
- In a wok or large skillet, heat the oil over high heat until the oil begins to smoke. Add the eggplant and stir for 1 minute. Add the garlic and chili and stir for 1 minute. Add the sauce and continue stirring for another 2 minutes. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir for 1 minute to thicken the sauce.
- Remove the pan from the heat. Serve hot garnished with the scallion.
- Cooking Oil: Chinese cooking typically uses peanut oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, or rapeseed (canola) oil. For a healthier alternative, I use avocado oil. For the recipes in Vegan Chinese Cookbook, I chose canola oil as it’s the most available in North America, but you can use any of these cooking oil interchangeably unless otherwise specified. I usually avoid oils with distinct flavors that may interfere with the flavors of Chinese cooking, such as olive oil and coconut oil.
- Gluten-Free Option: Most gluten-free soy sauces and tamari (typically gluten-free, but you should double-check the label) are similar to Chinese light soy sauce in flavour. Although not impossible, it will be harder to find a gluten-free dark soy sauce. If you don't have a gluten-free dark soy sauce, to make this dish gluten-free, simply replace both light soy sauce and dark soy sauce with gluten-free soy sauce or tamari.