Extra (Ap)petite // Flavorful Thai basil eggplant recipe

easy thai basil eggplant recipe asian cooking blog
I was so happy to hear from some of you who requested more Extra (Ap)petite recipes! I’d love to share more easy and flavorful favorites, along with tips on how to make them a little healthier. I admit, today’s dish is one I hesitated to post, since the resulting brown color is not the most photogenic. But we all know some of the better-tasting foods are not always Instagram-worthy! And this dish tastes even better in
 the summer when we grow our own eggplant, Thai basil, and hot chilis in our garden … but for now, you can find most of the ingredients at an Asian grocery store.

When I first had this at a Thai restaurant, I was hooked by the flavorful blend of salty, sweet, and spicy with the fragrant aroma of Thai basil. However, it came literally drenched in oil. Eggplant itself is nutritious, but in restaurants it’s usually fried (which preserves the purple color), or masked in thick breading. The way my mom taught me to cook it uses minimal oil, but you do lose the pretty color.

I’m all about customizable recipes, so here’s some potential adjustments to suit your liking. We use ground turkey, but you can also try ground or sliced chicken, ground pork, tofu cubes, or simply the eggplant alone (skip to the bottom of this post for modified instructions)! Vegetarians can experiment with more soy sauce and sugar instead of fish sauce, although this is a staple in most Thai dishes. I always use the long skinny Asian eggplants, but if necessary you could perhaps try regular eggplant – I’d peel the skin on those since it’s thicker. The only ingredient I wouldn’t omit is Thai basil, since it has such a unique flavor and aroma.

spicy thai basil eggplant chicken dish recipe


  • 1 lb Asian eggplant (~3 large ones)
  • 1/2 lb ground turkey
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-3 hot peppers* depending on your spice level, sliced (avoid touching seeds with bare hands)
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce **
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce ** (not the same as regular or low-sodium soy sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/3 cup hot water, more if needed
  • 1 large handful Thai basil leaves, roughly chopped

* I’ve tried jalapeños for milder heat, or birds-eye chilis as shown here which are pretty spicy
** I like Squid brand fish sauce, and “light superior soy sauce” by the brand pictured (not sure of the name in English!)

Step 1: Prepare a large bowl of cold water mixed with a spoonful of salt (I’m using a strainer bowl below). A salt water bath will keep your eggplant from browning right away, and will rinse away some excess bitterness. Cut eggplant into evenly-sized, approx. 1 inch sticks and place immediately into the salt water.

Chop your garlic, chilis, Thai basil, and get other ingredients in place while the eggplant soaks.
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Step 2: Pour 1 cup water into a frying pan on medium heat and wait for it to simmer.
how to steam chinese japanese eggplant healthy

Step 3: Drain the eggplant of salt water, which will be a little brown. Rinse the eggplant off with more cold water and drain again. If you’re in a hurry and don’t care about excess brown color (I usually don’t), then you can skip the soaking & rinsing in Steps 1 & 3!
how to keep eggplant purple from turning brown

Step 4: When the water in the pan comes to a gentle boil, add the eggplant and cover with a lid. Let it steam, covered, for about 3 minutes until partially cooked and semi softened. We will finish cooking it with all the other ingredients, but this quick steam helps it cook more evenly with no oil! The eggplant will start to lose its purple color as it cooks and softens.
healthy way to cook eggplant steam in pan

Step 5: Remove eggplant with a slotted spoon into a separate bowl. Save about half a cup of the hot water into a measuring cup, and pour out the rest.
pan steaming healthy way to cook asian eggplant

Step 6: Combine fish sauce and soy sauce in a small bowl. I wouldn’t do this too far in advance, because fish sauce is incredibly pungent on its own! (most of the strong smell cooks away into saltiness) Add some cooking oil to your pan, and lightly brown your meat with a rough spoonful of the fish/soy sauce mixture.

Step 7: When the meat is almost cooked, sauté in the garlic and chilis for a minute.
ground turkey chinese eggplant healthy recipe

Step 8: Gently stir the partially-cooked eggplant in along with the sugar, the rest of the fish / soy sauce mixture, and about 1/3 to 1/2 cup hot water. The amount of hot water depends on how saucy you want the dish and how much water stayed on your steamed eggplant. Cook until the eggplant is tender (try one), being careful not to overcook as it’ll become mushy!

Step 9: Stir in Thai basil, quickly remove the pan from heat, and serve. Basil loses it’s flavor when cooked, so add it in right before you’re ready to eat!
easy thai cooking asian eggplant basil recipe
NOTE: If you are skipping the meat/protein, this dish becomes a lot simpler! Follow steps 1 and 3 above (but not 2) to soak and drain the eggplant. Start cooking by lightly sautéing the garlic and chilis in a little oil over medium heat.

Stir in all the uncooked eggplant, sugar, fish & soy sauce until combined and cook for another minute. Add about 3/4 cup hot water, cover with a lid to “steam” for ~ 3 minutes. Remove lid and continue cooking until eggplant is done – careful not to overcook! Finish with Thai basil.

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thai food chinese eggplant basil chili dish easy recipe
Let me know if you give this a try! I’d also love to hear any variations on this or how you prepare eggplant!


58 thoughts on “Extra (Ap)petite // Flavorful Thai basil eggplant recipe

  • Reply Jae January 18, 2018 at 10:49 pm

    I love eggplants and this sounds like a great recipe!

  • Reply Kay Nguyen January 18, 2018 at 11:08 pm

    This looks so good, I will have to try it out! Thanks for sharing <3


  • Reply Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog January 18, 2018 at 11:23 pm

    This looks like something my Mum used to always make. Sounds so delicious! ❤️❤️


  • Reply Thu January 18, 2018 at 11:30 pm

    I love this dish but often I find that the restaurants are too heavy handed with the oil. This looks delicious & healthy, yet simple to make. Thank you for posting and keep the recipes coming!

    • Reply Jean | Extra Petite January 20, 2018 at 2:14 pm

      Thanks, Thu! Let me know if you give it a try and any adjustments you might make!

  • Reply karan January 18, 2018 at 11:39 pm

    Sounds delicious! Would love a hair tutorial on this high bun!

  • Reply La Bijoux Bella | by mia January 19, 2018 at 2:00 am

    I love ❤️ love eggplant 🍆 … this recipe looks so delicious. I would try it in a heart beat! 👍🏼💗👍🏼 Merci for the recipe.

  • Reply Marjorie January 19, 2018 at 3:08 am

    This looks delicious! I’m going to try iy!


  • Reply Rena January 19, 2018 at 4:39 am

    This looks so yummy that I must try it out!
    xx Rena

  • Reply Michael @ Mile in My Glasses January 19, 2018 at 6:18 am

    OMG, this looks and sounds so delicious Jean! I’m definitely going to have to give this one a try I think!

    Happy Friday!

  • Reply Ray January 19, 2018 at 6:20 am

    Delicious looking meal.

  • Reply sydnee January 19, 2018 at 10:35 am

    I’ll have to try it, looks so easy!

    x S | Design by Sydnee 💗

  • Reply Alexa M Johnson January 19, 2018 at 10:43 am

    I have to try this! I don’t like eggplant but I would definitely eat this!


  • Reply Chelsea January 19, 2018 at 10:48 am

    I have a “regular” eggplant in the fridge and would love to try this recipe over the weekend. Do you think that would work, or is it important to use the skinnier Asian eggplants?

    • Reply Jean | Extra Petite January 20, 2018 at 2:16 pm

      Hi Chelsea,
      Honestly I have never tried cooking with regular eggplant before! So I can’t speak to the differences in texture and flavor. I did comb some recipes online calling for Asian eggplant and did see ppl who subbed in regular and peeled the skin. If you give it a try, let me know if it works with this cooking method!

  • Reply fatou diaw January 19, 2018 at 10:59 am

    love the recipe! will try it.

  • Reply bluewisteria January 19, 2018 at 1:07 pm

    Thanks Jean for this great post! I’ve been looking for a colander/strainer bowl like the one you have in your pictures. Where did you get this? Thank you.

  • Reply Petite Teacher January 19, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    Hi Jean. I have never realised how funny the title of your cooking posts is. Absolutely fantastic wordplay. As for the recipe: My son has just returned from Thailand and is highly enthusiastic about the food he had there. I have got a great idea to spoil him thanks to you. Have a great weekend. Love, Lieske

    • Reply Jean | Extra Petite January 20, 2018 at 2:22 pm

      Wow, I’m envious of his Asian travels! I can’t imagine all the flavorful food there!

  • Reply Jandrew January 19, 2018 at 3:05 pm

    Hey Jean , I’m excited to see this recipe . I go to the market and see these Asian eggplants and have never tried them . Now I have a recipe , not being the greatest chef , wish me luck !
    Dress The Part

  • Reply Jessica January 19, 2018 at 3:15 pm

    Yum! This looks so good!


  • Reply Phoebe January 19, 2018 at 6:41 pm

    Eggplants are one of my favourites but getting it to taste good can be a little tricky! Love this dish & your recipe. I usually use coriander/cilantro but basil is a nice substitute! ~~yummmm

    • Reply Jean | Extra Petite January 22, 2018 at 3:51 pm

      Yum! I love cilantro and use it in a slightly different Chinese version of this dish!

  • Reply Mireia January 19, 2018 at 6:54 pm

    Absolutely love it!

  • Reply Maureen January 19, 2018 at 7:20 pm

    Thai basil is a favorite of ours. It’s our go to when I or hubby have no time to cook. Your recipe looks easy and regardless of not being picture pretty looks mighty delicious. 😀 I’ll have to try this and let you know how it worked out.

    Maureen | http://www.littlemisscasual.com

  • Reply Jennifer January 20, 2018 at 2:50 am

    Wow! Looks delicious. I have to test this recipe out myself. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • Reply Anonymous January 20, 2018 at 7:07 am

    If you’re curious, the Chinese version of this dish is “Fish Fragrant Eggplant” (鱼香茄子) and it’s called that even though there are no ingredients using fish or fish sauce. Most recipes typically use ground pork instead of ground turkey, but it leaves out the Thai basil (which is the point of your recipe). Either way, yours sounds good too! (Love basil, but I’d be making it without the fish sauce because that stuff is… pungent. Haha) Also, I have a feeling that if you grilled the eggplant in the oven (or used your air fryer?), you might be able to keep some of the purple color of the skin. Let us know if you try that!

    • Reply Jean | Extra Petite January 22, 2018 at 4:02 pm

      I love Yu Xiang Qie Zi! At some Boston restaurants they actually make it with ground pork plus little pieces of salted fish (surprisingly true to its name) – it’s yummy but smells even more strong than fish sauce haha.

      I did try the air fryer in a day of eggplant experimentation and unfortunately it became brown even after a minute or two, but grilling might fare better!

  • Reply Mizeats January 20, 2018 at 11:25 am

    I love Thai food so this recipe sounds very delicious, Jean! And it’s a healthier version! Yum! Have you ever tried tortang talong with beef giniling (eggplant omelette with ground beef) ? It requires only a few ingredients but it’s so tasty 😃 Like your recipe, you can change up the recipe if desired.

    • Reply Jean | Extra Petite January 22, 2018 at 4:03 pm

      I hadn’t heard of that dish before! Just looked it up and it looks so interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply samantha January 20, 2018 at 12:18 pm

    What a delicious meal! And so super healthy too!

  • Reply Maria January 20, 2018 at 1:20 pm

    I love how you are putting a healthy(ish) twist to asian dishes. Thank you so much for sharing! My husband is Thai and he’s usually the cook when it comes to dinner, but I definitely will try this!

    • Reply Jean | Extra Petite January 22, 2018 at 4:06 pm

      Lucky you, Maria! : )

  • Reply The pink pineapple January 20, 2018 at 4:07 pm

    Yummy!! i love this recipe looks so delicious

  • Reply Doreen's Style Diary January 21, 2018 at 1:57 am

    This recipe looks delicious and healthy. I add mine to a mixed vegetable sour soup dish which is a popular Burmese dish. It’s so good.

    • Reply Jean | Extra Petite January 22, 2018 at 4:06 pm

      That sounds delicious!

  • Reply Jen January 21, 2018 at 10:17 am

    That’s not Thai holy basil. You should do some research before giving out false info.

    • Reply Jean | Extra Petite January 22, 2018 at 4:07 pm

      I never said I was using “holy basil.”

  • Reply Kristin January 21, 2018 at 11:41 am

    Couldn’t be more thrilled that you posted this! Been threatening to hunt down a recipe for this dish for ages since it isn’t on the menu at any of our local Thai places. (And I’m big on healthy modifications.) I always seek it out when traveling, especially in my visits to San Fran, as I’ve found at least one spot that’s not so heavy handed with the oil. Thanks so much for posting!

    • Reply Jean | Extra Petite January 22, 2018 at 4:08 pm

      Hi Kristin, I don’t know if it’ll measure up to the restaurant versions but hopefully will come close (and be a lot lighter)! Let me know if you give it a try and any modifications you make!

  • Reply Nancy January 21, 2018 at 11:44 am

    Which Asian grocery store do you recommend in Boston? As an aside, Id love to see another guide to Boston listing out you similar spots! I always reference your old one but maybe it could use a refresh 🙂 thanks!!

    • Reply Jean | Extra Petite January 22, 2018 at 4:09 pm

      Hi Nancy,
      I usually go to The New York Mart in the south end by the Wholefoods but I think I prefer Super 88 in Allston if that’s closer to you! I usually avoid buying meat at any of the Asian grocery stores though, unless it’s something like soup bones that I can only find there!

  • Reply Eunice January 21, 2018 at 1:43 pm

    Thanks so much for the recipe! I made this today with regular eggplant (peeled the skin per your instructions) and it turned out PERFECTLY. I’m so glad I found another way to prepare eggplant!

    • Reply Jean | Extra Petite January 22, 2018 at 4:09 pm

      I’m thrilled to hear that! The Asian ones aren’t always accessible so I’m excited to know that the rounded ones worked for you, too.

  • Reply Elizabeth January 21, 2018 at 9:10 pm

    This looks soooo good! <3 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing all of this great recipe, Jean! Can't wait to try it!

    XO, Elizabeth

  • Reply Sincerely Ophelia January 22, 2018 at 11:48 pm

    Aw, the pun is seriously adorable. I love eggplant and thai food. The recipe seems delicious!

    XOXO //

  • Reply Nicola January 23, 2018 at 8:58 am

    Recipe sounds delicious, a must-try. What I found adorable is that you have changed your tag to “Extra Ap-Petite” for recipes – so cute! x

  • Reply Sara January 24, 2018 at 1:39 am

    Love the recipe!

    FYI: I found your twin. You look a lot like Stephanie Cheng, and she is a Hong Kong singer.

  • Reply Linna January 28, 2018 at 4:14 pm

    Thank you for posting this, Jean! I just made it for lunch and because I like more heat, I used 7 of the Thai bird chilis. I also added more soy sauce because I prefer a little more flavor. Thanks for sharing the part especially about preparing the eggplant; using water instead of oil is so much healthier.

  • Reply Bin January 29, 2018 at 12:31 am

    Just tried this recipe tonight, the flavors are on point and it’ll make it into our weeknight meal rotations! More please!! Thank you!

  • Reply Pat February 1, 2018 at 9:00 pm

    Delicious recipe; I tried it out and added some cashews and mushrooms that I head left.

  • Reply Susan February 11, 2018 at 1:45 am

    Thank you for sharing this recipe! I tried it and it’s fantastic!! Please share more like this in the future!! 😀

  • Reply Nikki February 12, 2018 at 7:43 pm

    Jean – I made this tonight and it is absolutely wonderful. We enjoy spicy food so I used the 3 birds-eye chilies and was perfect! For those that don’t enjoy heat, definitely will want to reduce that. Only thing I did differently was I added two shredded bok choys – whites were steamed along with the eggplant and the greens were added along with the Thai basil. It added some great nutrition, some beautiful color and bulked the meal up even more! Only other thing I considered for next time is maybe tightening up the leftover sauce with some cornstarch. Really fab recipe that we’ll definitely make over and over again. Thank you!

  • Reply Daisy February 16, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    That light soy sauce is Pearl River Bridge brand! Love it!

  • Reply gin March 15, 2018 at 1:36 am

    just made it two days in a row because it was so tasty and healthy 🙂 second time i added sliced onion/scallions as well as green onion to the dish because i just love sauteed onions. it gave it some extra texture and flavour. agree on adding slightly more soy sauce as well. thanks so much for sharing. love the blog.

  • Reply Fion May 23, 2018 at 7:26 pm

    Wow, this tastes amazing and it’s healthy! Thank you for the recipe Jean! The instructions were very easy to follow. I would love to see more recipes from you! Love you Jean and congrats on the baby! 🙂

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