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.
Pour 1 cup water into a frying pan on medium heat and wait for it to simmer.
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!
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.
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.
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.
When the meat is almost cooked, sauté in the garlic and chilis for a minute.
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!
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!