This stir-fry dish features eggplant and tofu and is a great option for vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free diners. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Oliver

Beautiful, purple, shiny-skinned eggplant is a wonder to behold. And cooking one is, for many, still a conundrum.

We know about eggplant parmesan, and maybe ratatouille and moussaka. Years and years ago when vegetarianism was less common than it is today, a friend of mine who practiced it said her mother used to buy an eggplant when my friend visited home. Her mom didn’t know quite what to do with it, but she knew vegetarians ate them, so an eggplant invariably awaited my friend’s return.

The following eggplant recipe isn’t any more demanding than many stir-fry dishes, and employs another less-familiar food item: tofu. I’ve made this for years, inspired by Mollie Katzen’s Szechuan Eggplant and Tofu recipe from the venerable “Moosewood Cookbook.” I grow a variety of eggplant called Galine because it produces the large egg-shaped fruits that are perfect for this dish, while the long, slender eggplants are better for stir-fry or ratatouille.

Tofu — really soy milk cheese — is made in Maine these days. Still viewed with suspicion by many, it seems to be acquiring a more mainstream status as the years go by. High in protein, low in fat, bless its heart, it tastes like whatever you add to it. And tofu fried in peanut oil before being added to the eggplant creates a firm and chewy feature in contrast to the soft vegetable.

Essentially, you make this stir fry in three parts. Assemble the sauce ingredients and set them aside. Frying the tofu ahead isn’t required, but I cut my block into flat pieces and sizzle them in oil until golden, and then set them aside. Then saute the eggplant strips in onions and garlic, toss in the tofu, add the sauce and heat it all through. A one-wok meal, or one large frypan if you are wok-less. It’s good on rice, so add a pan to cook that in.

Katzen’s original recipe calls for cayenne pepper to taste. I’ve always gone very easy on it, and prefer powdered chipotle and not much of it. Or, since I grow them, shishito peppers. The recipe calls for fresh ginger, which I don’t use often unless I know I will make a dish requiring it. I substitute dried ginger powder if I don’t have any.

Vegans, vegetarians and gluten avoiders can all eat this dish. Tofu skeptics might be pleasantly surprised.

Spicy Eggplant and Tofu

Serves four

Sauce

¼ cup tamari or soy sauce

¼ cup sherry

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

¼ cup cornstarch

Add the tamari, sherry, sugar and cider to the cornstarch and whisk. Set aside.

Tofu

1 pound firm tofu, cut into butter pat-sized pieces

Peanut or vegetable oil

Over a high heat, fry the tofu in enough oil to generously cover the bottom of the pan or wok.

Drain and set aside.

Eggplant

1 medium onion, sliced

3-4 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon ginger root, minced or grated

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

1/8 teaspoon cayenne or hot pepper, or to taste

1 large eggplant, sliced lengthwise in thin slabs, then cut crosswise into strips

Peanut or olive oil

Put enough oil in a wok or fry pan to generously cover the bottom, and add the onion and cook until the onion is soft.

Add the eggplant, and more oil if needed.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is tender, about 10 minutes.

Add the garlic, ginger, salt, pepper and hot pepper, tossing it together with the eggplant.

Add the tofu, and mix that in.

Add the sauce ingredients and stir to keep it from sticking, adding a splash of water to prevent thickening.

Serve on rice, rice noodles or ramen.

Avatar photo

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...