Cultivated throughout Asia for thousands of years, eggplants come in many shapes, sizes, and names.
Interestingly, in Italian, it’s called melanzana, which morphed into “mela insana” or “mad apple” in English, a nod to the 13th century beliefs that eggplants were extremely poisonous and could cause insanity.
While it is true that eggplant leaves and flowers can be toxic if you eat them in large amounts, eggplants are extremely nutritious with a ton of health benefits.
An expert chef’s tips on how to pick the best eggplants
I also wanted to point out that we’re using Chinese eggplants for this recipe. My dad prefers them because they’re less bitter and have fewer seeds than other types of eggplants. This recipe still works with the wider, fatter types of eggplants, with some small adjustments that we talk about later.
Chinese eggplants are long and thin. To choose the best one, pick a slim, brightly-colored one with glossy skin. Don't get wrinkly eggplants, as that's a sign of dehydration. Hold it by the stem and wave it a bit. If it's stiff, don't get it. Instead, it should look elastic, bouncing and swaying as you swing it (also, uh, don't let go).
My parents talk about this in great detail throughout our recipe video, but here are some of the things they look for:
- brighter skin
- thin, slender (not thick)
- should be easy to bend, not firm
- smooth surface
To salt or not to salt
“Should you salt your eggplant?” is a very common question. Salting eggplants used to be a thing centuries ago when eggplants were much more bitter. Nowadays, salting doesn’t really have any noticeable effect on bitterness, because eggplants have been bred to be much more mild in taste.
However, if you’re frying them, salting eggplants does appear to help remove some excess moisture due to osmosis. The salt also helps break down some of the fibers, resulting in a more creamy texture.
In this yuxiang eggplant recipe, my dad is going for a slightly firmer texture. If you’re looking for more of that restaurant-style creamy feel, check out Kenji Alt Lopez’s video, in which he goes into lots of detail about his process, osmosis, and his own version of Chinese eggplant with garlic sauce.
Alternatives to Oyster Sauce
Since oyster sauce is made out of oyster extract, here are some alternatives that have a similar taste without using the actual oyster. If you're vegetarian or need to stay away from gluten, we have three alternatives for you!
A homemade vegetarian and gluten-free oyster sauce
Unfortunately, we don't know of a vendor that sells an oyster sauce that caters to both vegetarian and gluten-free dietary restrictions, so you'll need to DIY the sauce.
Mix equal parts gluten free soy sauce and gluten free hoisin sauce. This isn't exactly the same as oyster sauce, but it's pretty close.
Finding Asian ingredients
Some of these ingredients can hard to find in a typical grocery store.
If you don't live near an Asian market, most or all of what my dad uses in this recipe can be found on Amazon:
These links are affiliate links, which means that if you use our links to purchase these ingredients, Amazon pays my family a small amount for the sale - at no extra cost to you. If you use these links, we really appreciate the support!