This recipe for Eggplant Basil Thai Curry is based on one of my favorite dishes from the takeaway Thai counter at the family-style, super authentic, sometimes dicey Boston Chinatown Eatery. I hear it has since closed, but my artist friends and I used to hang out there all the time in the 90s when we were doing the art studio loft thing in Boston downtown, working in Fort Point’s emerging web design studios, and in the days I was running Gallery Insekt, an experimental not-for-profit artspace.
In my travels in Thailand I had many excellent similar dishes with basil and eggplant, mostly in bustling Bangkok back alleys and on the then mostly-undiscovered paradise Ko Chang island. The coconut spin is actually my doing, making this sort of a hybrid dish with more classic Thai coconut curries.
I’ve also experimented with more tomato and no coconut milk. This results in more of a stir-fry and less of a creamy coconut curry. See what works for you! If unfamiliar with salting eggplant prior to cooking, I suggest looking it up online or in any comprehensive cookbook discussing vegetable cookery. Cooks have debated endlessly on whether or not salting eggplant is necessary. I learned the trick ages ago from my mother and stand by it. Using Asian aubergine is a way around it – they naturally have a milder, less bitter flavor. If you don’t like eggplant, it can be replaced with squash or zucchini.
Eggplant Basil Thai Curry – with Tofu & Coconut
serves 2-3 / time 45 min
1 medium / 220 g eggplant (aubergine)
8 oz / 220 g extra firm tofu
3 Tbs oil
1 medium red onion chopped
1 or 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 inch / 2 cm fresh ginger peeled, finely chopped
1 tspn coriander seed ground
1/2 tspn red chili flakes or 1-2 red or green chilis
1 medium tomato chopped
1 Tbs tamarind paste + 1/4 cup water
1 tspn soy sauce or tamari
3/4 cup / 6 oz / 180 ml coconut milk
1/2 tspn sugar
1/4 – 1/2 tspn salt (+ more to salt eggplant)
1/2 cup fresh basil chopped (+ 3-4 leaves for garnish)
1/4 cup cashews lightly toasted
- Cut eggplant in quarters lengthwise and slice. Salt well and sweat for 10-20 min. Rinse and dry.
- Press tofu (to remove extra moisture) and cut into cubes, square, strips, or triangles about 1 cm thick.
- Heat oil in a large pot or wok on medium high.
- Fry garlic, onion, ginger, coriander, chili for 2 min.
- Add eggplant and tofu, fry, stirring regularly, until golden brown, about 5-8 min.
- Add tomato, soy sauce, fry, mixing regularly, 2 min.
- Add tamarind paste and water, mix well, bring to boil, cook stirring regularly for 2-3 min.
- Add coconut milk, return to boil, reduce heat to medium. Stir regularly, cook for 5 min.
- Add basil, sugar, salt, mix and simmer for 4-5 min.
- Serve with jasmine rice, garnish with toasted cashews and basil leaf.
Replace coconut milk with 1/2 cup water + 1/2 tspn cornstarch or use 2 tomatoes. Chopped lemongrass and 1/2 tspn ground black pepper may be added to spices for stronger flavor.