Thai basil pork and eggplant

Summer doesn't have to mean foregoing your favorite Asian stir-fries. Using eggplant or another veggie makes this one-pot meal perfect for a weeknight dinner (or even breakfast).

Pickles and Tea
Top your stir-fry with a fried egg and have it for breakfast.

Yes, it’s summer and the idea of cooking anything (grilling excepted), let alone stir-frying over a hot wok, can trigger fainting spells.

I have a confession to make. I cook and eat soups, stews, hot pastas, and all manner of Asian rice dishes (fried rice, Hainanese chicken rice, red-cooked pork with rice, adobo with rice, etc.) all year long, including summer. It’s not that I don’t like salads; I’m happy to have a big bowl of greens to accompany my pasta or pork chops. Or that I frown upon sandwiches; I do love a good prosciutto and Gruyere sammie, but please make it a hot panino.

Yet, more often than not, I’ll choose a hot, hearty meal of rice plus fixings simply because it’s tasty and mostly because I’m not hungry again an hour later. Growing up in the tropics, we ate the same foods just about all year round. The weather made no difference whatsoever – it was hot and humid 365 days of the year!

Now, what I’m about to tell you next will make you think I’m even crazier. I like to eat rice for breakfast. Fried rice, nasi lemak (coconut rice with fried fish or chicken dipped into delicious sambal), congee, you name the rice dish, I’ll eat it. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? I don’t take that statement lightly. Such a stodgy start to the day keeps me going until lunch time, and sometimes beyond, no snacking necessary.

So enter Thai basil pork, a dish that’s the answer to my culinary wish list. Everyone’s favorite breakfast in Thailand (maybe I’m exaggerating a wee bit), it’s also quick and easy to cook. Plus, it does double duty as a weeknight dinner dish.

In a bid to create a balanced, one-pot meal, I went ahead and added eggplant to the dish (I also wanted to use up the lone eggplant in my vegetable box). I had it for dinner one evening and breakfast the next day, topped with a fried egg. Perfect!

If you’re still not convinced that stir-frying and eating a steaming plate of rice and meat in the stifling heat of summer is a good idea, just give it a try. The millions of Asians around the world can’t all have it wrong!

Thai basil pork and eggplant
Makes 4 servings 

In Thailand, this popular dish usually pairs ground pork with holy basil (bai gkaprow). However, Thai sweet basil (bai horapa) is much easier to find in Asian markets in America and makes a worthy stand-in. If you can’t find either, substitute with any basil or a mixture of basil and mint for a bright, fresh flavor. In my rendition, I’ve added eggplant. Adding vegetables (try carrots or peas) is a great way to make a one-pot meal on a busy weeknight. Ground chicken or turkey also works well.

1 small globe eggplant, or 2 Asian eggplants (3/4 to 1 pound)
2 tablespoons canola oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 Asian shallots (or 1/2 small onion), cut into thin slices (1/2 cup)
1/2 pound ground pork
3 to 4 red Thai chilies, cut into rounds
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1-1/2 cups packed fresh Thai basil leaves
4 Thai-Style Fried Eggs
Freshly-ground black pepper (optional)

1. Cut the eggplant into quarters lengthwise then slice crosswise into wedges, no more than 1-inch thick. You’ll have about 2 cups. (If using Asian eggplant, halve lengthwise then slice crosswise into discs.)

2. Preheat a large wok or skillet over medium heat. Swirl in the oil and heat until the oil starts to shimmer. Stir in the garlic and shallots and cook until the garlic is golden and fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3. Raise the heat to high and stir-fry the eggplant until seared and sticky, about 3 minutes. Stir in the pork, breaking up clumps with the edge of your spatula. Stir and cook until the pork has just lost its blush, about 2 minutes.

4. Reduce the heat to medium and throw in the chilies. Add the oyster, fish, and soy sauces and sugar, and stir to coat the eggplant and pork evenly with the seasonings.

5. Add 1/4 cup water. Simmer for about 5 minutes until the eggplant and pork are fully cooked and the liquid has evaporated (the eggplant will be silky soft and rich brown in color).

6. Stir in the basil leaves and cook until they wilt, about 1 minute. Turn off the heat.

7. Scoop hot jasmine rice onto 4 individual plates followed by the pork and eggplant mixture. Top each plate with a fried egg and sprinkle with freshly-ground pepper.

Related post on Pickles and Tea: Thai-Style Fried Egg (Kai Dao)

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