For many cooks, the mention of eggplant elicits groans, triggering images of thick rounds salted with a heavy dose of salt and sitting on half a roll’s worth of paper towels next to quarts of frying oil.
And many people just hate the texture of eggplant, which can be slimy and slick, like okra on steroids. Though salting eggplant to remove its bitterness and excess moisture and then frying it in copious amounts of oil to get it tender are both myths that have long been debunked, they are now eggplant canon, and all their baggage for cooks persists.
To course-correct, I turned to my favorite eggplant dish, Chinese eggplant lightly stewed in garlic sauce, for inspiration. I eschew the typical salting step and simply stir-fry the eggplant — Chinese eggplant are more tender and slender than the dark-purple-skinned Italian variety — until lightly charred on the outside and cooked to a firm custard consistency inside (trust me, it gets just as soft as if you had salted it). Then it gets showered with peanuts that are glazed in soy sauce and honey and spiked with chile flakes and ginger.
The peanut topping provides crunchy umami-packed intensity and is the perfect thing to contrast the soft, blank canvas of the eggplant (although it could make even my shoe taste delicious too).