Eggplant “Unagi”: Easy Recipe! | The Woks of Life

This eggplant unagi (or rather, “unagi”) is indeed reminiscent of a Japanese eel, with a similar sweet, savory sauce. But instead of eel, the main event is eggplant! 

Where We Got This Idea

In our family, sharing recipe ideas is a constant…a way of life.

Sometimes, ideas come from simply reading over old recipes, eating out in restaurants, or random shower thoughts. (Ideas ranging from how to achieve the perfect egg tart dough to making cinnamon rolls with our milk bread recipe have indeed come to us while washing our hair!)

This one though, came as a message from my mom, who was browsing recipe videos on the Chinese Internet. The video showed eggplant being steamed, fanned out into flat pieces, pan-fried, and then quickly braised in a dark sauce. 

It struck me that the result looked a lot like Japanese unagi, or eel. The kind that you might find on top of a bed of sushi rice. 

And so, this recipe was born. I made some adjustments to the Chinese version, like using mirin instead of Chinese Shaoxing wine and adding fish sauce for a little of that umami, funky edge. 

Then of course, I proceeded to google “eggplant unagi” and found that I’m not the first person to think of this! In fact, our friends at Just One Cookbook have posted a similar recipe, except it DOES have eel in addition to eggplant.

In any case, I could see myself taking down this meal on any weeknight with a big pack of roasted seaweed and sliced avocado. Perhaps with a little bok choy on the side for health. Not a bad way to do dinner on a Thursday night! 

Recipe Instructions

For this recipe, we used eggplants that my parents grew themselves in their garden. It’s been a great harvest so far this year:

Homegrown Japanese eggplants

Peel the eggplants, and slice them in half crosswise, so you have thick pieces that are about 6 inches (15 cm) long. Place the pieces in a heatproof dish. 

Peeled Japanese eggplants in heatproof dish

Boil water in your steamer (or your wok with a bamboo steamer, or even just a pan with a steamer rack and lid. Read more about how to set up a steamer). Steam the eggplant over medium heat for 16-18 minutes, until a knife pierces through the eggplant easily. 

Steamed eggplant pieces

After they’ve been steamed and are cool enough to handle, slice the steamed eggplants in half lengthwise, but not all the way through! Open each piece up like a book. Use two forks to open up the flesh of the eggplant even more. This creates more surface area for the sauce you’ll braise it in later. 

Opening up steamed eggplants

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Pan-fry the eggplant on both sides until golden brown on each side. (If you need additional oil, you can add 1 more tablespoon). 

Pan-frying steamed eggplant pieces
Pan-fried steamed eggplant pieces

Meanwhile, combine the light soy sauce, mirin, water, dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, and sugar in a small bowl. 

Pour the sauce mixture into the eggplant, and simmer until reduced by half.

Braising pan-fried steamed eggplant in sauce

Run each piece of eggplant through the sticky sauce before placing onto a bed of steamed rice. Top with sesame seeds and scallions. Serve. 

Eggplant unagi over rice
Picking up Eggplant unagi with chopsticks

Eggplant “Unagi”

This eggplant unagi (or rather, “unagi”) is indeed reminiscent of a Japanese eel, with a similar sweet, savory sauce. But instead of eel, the main event is eggplant!

Eggplant Unagi over rice

serves: 2

Instructions

  • Peel the eggplants, and slice them in half crosswise, so you have thick pieces that are about 6 inches (15 cm) long. Place the pieces in a heatproof dish.

  • Boil water in your steamer (or your wok with a bamboo steamer, or even just a pan with a steamer rack and lid. Read more about how to set up a steamer). Steam the eggplant over medium heat for 16-18 minutes, until a knife pierces through the eggplant easily.

  • After they’ve been steamed and are cool enough to handle, slice the steamed eggplants in half lengthwise, but not all the way through! Open each piece up like a book. Use two forks to open up the flesh of the eggplant even more. This creates more surface area for the sauce you’ll braise it in later.

  • Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Pan-fry the eggplant on both sides until golden brown on each side. (If you need additional oil, you can add 1 more tablespoon).

  • Meanwhile, combine the light soy sauce, mirin, water, dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, and sugar in a small bowl.

  • Pour the sauce mixture into the eggplant, and simmer until reduced by half. Run each piece of eggplant through the sticky sauce before placing onto a bed of steamed rice. Top with sesame seeds and scallions. Serve.

Tips & Notes:

Nutrition information is per serving (assuming this recipe makes 2 servings), and does not include rice. 

nutrition facts

Calories: 209kcal (10%) Carbohydrates: 20g (7%) Protein: 3g (6%) Fat: 15g (23%) Saturated Fat: 12g (60%) Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g Monounsaturated Fat: 2g Sodium: 649mg (27%) Potassium: 562mg (16%) Fiber: 7g (28%) Sugar: 12g (13%) Vitamin A: 112IU (2%) Vitamin C: 6mg (7%) Calcium: 38mg (4%) Iron: 1mg (6%)

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