Spicy Garlic Eggplant Boats
September 5, 2020
Are you looking for something for your dinner party that is fancy looking, delicious, but also takes less than 30 minutes to prepare? These Spicy Garlic Eggplant Boats might just be your answer. A spicy garlic ground pork mixture poured on top of tender soft eggplant boats results in a mouth-watering experience.
When cooked through, the delicate and mild flavored eggplants absorb the sauce and flavors extremely well, but they also absorb oil like a sponge. So how do you make sure the eggplants are cooked to tender softness without absorbing too much oil? The answer is steaming! Steaming is a very healthy way to cook food while retaining many nutrients. And, you don’t need to be active during the steaming. You can also try another simple steamed eggplant recipe I posted in the past: Chinese Steamed Eggplant with Garlic.
As a busy mom with two young kids to feed (plus parents during this pandemic), I’m always on the lookout for new ways to save time without sacrificing taste and nutrition. In the past, I used to prepare this dish differently: by cutting the eggplants first into thin wedges before steaming. But after trying out this new way of preparing eggplants, I have become hooked.
This new way simply involves cutting the eggplant in half lengthwise. After cutting in half, the eggplant then takes on the shape of a “boat.” Then the “boats” are put on a steamer for a few minutes until the eggplant flesh becomes soft and tender. While the eggplants steam, on a separate skillet or pan, I make the spicy garlic sauce by cooking ground pork with ginger, garlic, chili peppers, green onions, and a sauce made with a few everyday condiments. By the time the eggplants boats are steamed through, the mixture is also ready to be spooned or poured on top. The whole dish can be ready within 30 minutes.
I also like to add some fresh hot Thai chili peppers along with the herbs to give the dish a spicy kick. If you can’t tolerate spiciness, you can totally skip the chili peppers. For a vegan version, you can replace the ground pork with a large amount of minced garlic. Just make sure not to burn the garlic as they cook easily.
Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 2-4 people
- 2 Chinese or Japanese eggplants2
- 1 2-inch (~5cm) long piece of ginger
- 6 or more garlic gloves
- 4 green onions
- 2-3 fresh chili peppers (optional)
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce1
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- ½ lb (~225g) ground pork3
See notes for substitutes
- Gather all the ingredients. Heat a pot of water in a steamer, pan, or wok that is large enough to accommodate the eggplant boats.4
- Rinse the eggplants, removing the stem end (as shown). Then cut the 2 eggplants in half lengthwise. Place the 4 eggplant boats side by side with the cut side facing up on a plate. Using a fruit or paring knife, cut the flesh of each eggplant boat in a grid-like pattern without breaking the skin (see picture). Alternatively, only make a few long slices on the flesh without breaking the skin. Slicing the flesh will help the eggplant more easily absorb the sauce.
- Once the water starts boiling, transfer the plate with the eggplant boats to the steamer or the pan with the steamer rack. Cover the lid and set a timer for 5-6 minutes. Once the timer is up, turn off the heat and open the lid. The eggplants can remain on the rack until the rest of the sauce mixture is ready.
- While waiting for the water to boil or the eggplants to steam, prepare the herbs and sauce. Peel off the skin from the 2-inch piece of ginger. Use a meat pounder or the back of a cleaver to smash the ginger first to “soften” the ginger. Using two hands, gently rock the chef’s knife back and forth across the loosened ginger to mince it. Set aside.
- Use the same technique to mince garlic. Smash the garlic gloves with a meat pounder or cleaver to quickly remove the skin. Using two hands, gently rock the chef’s knife back and forth across the pile of garlic to mince it. Set aside.
- Wash the green onions. Separate the white and green parts. Cut both the white and green parts into thin slices. Set aside separate from the other ingredients.
- Cut the fresh chili peppers into short slices. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine the 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, and 1 teaspoon of sugar, mixing well. You can also add the individual ingredients to the pork in step 11, as shown.
- Heat a skillet or pan under medium-high heat. When the skillet is getting hot, add the 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. After about 10 seconds, add the ground pork and immediately start tossing and stirring.
- When the ground pork begins to change color, add the minced ginger, minced garlic, and chili peppers, stirring to combine until the ground pork has mostly changed color. Add the white parts of the green onion, stirring to combine.
- Pour in the sauce and mix well with the ground pork mixture. Turn off the heat. Spoon the ground pork mixture on top of each eggplant boat. For an added kick, add some fresh green onions on top and spoon some hot oil on top (as shown).
- Serve the eggplant boats together as a family style dish or individually as a western style course. They are best enjoyed while hot.
- For a gluten free version, make sure to use gluten free light soy sauce (生抽) or tamari (溜酱油). You can easily find gluten free ones made by Kikkoman and San-J in grocery stores and supermarkets.
- Make sure to use either Chinese or Japanese eggplants, which are sold in most Asian and international grocery stores. Because the Chinese and Japanese eggplants have few seeds, they have a sweeter and more delicate flavor than western eggplants. They also have much thinner skins.
- Ground pork with both lean and fat meat works the best. If you have a meat grinder, you can grind your own ground pork with either pork shoulder or pork belly. Here, I ground my own using pork belly. Alternatively, you can substitute ground pork with ground beef. If looking for a vegetarian version, replace ground pork with large amount of minced garlic. Be careful not to burn the garlic as it takes less time to cook without the meat.
- I like to use my cast iron wok with a steamer rack to steam food. If you don’t have a steamer, technically any large pan with a steamer rack should work, as long as the pan is deep enough and water does not overflow the food.