*Scroll down to the end of this post for a video tutorial.
I grew up eating this stew, often twice in late autumn when eggplant was in season. The stew was one of the few recipes that my cooking-challenged father mastered.
I have vivid memories of our tiny kitchen where I helped my father make this dish for many dinners. Despite the chilling wind typical of North Vietnam, we had to open our kitchen door because we were using a coal stove that emitted a lot of harsh smoke. While we were cooking, I helped him cut the eggplant.
It was the kind of perfectly round and green eggplant that I don’t see quite as often nowadays. Maybe it was a specialty of my hometown. I would draw some water from the well, pour it into our aluminum basin, add some salt, then add the eggplant wedges there. My father told me that salt water prevented the eggplant from turning grey. I believed that and always did as he told me. Now, if I think about it, I don’t see much point in doing that, for the cooked eggplant will change its color anyway, but I still prepare a bowl of salt water every time I cook eggplant. I guess preparing my family recipes has simply become my second nature. I prepare them subconciously and enjoy every single step along the way.
When my father was making the stew I would go out into our small back garden to pick up some perilla and wild betel leaves and wash them one by one in well water. I loved those heart-shaped herbs so much I can still now remember how they left spicy aroma on my cold little fingers. Wild betel leaves might be hard to find outside of Vietnam, but you can buy perilla in Asian supermarket. Shiso leaves and Thai basils are good substitution for perilla.
This dish traditionally includes pork, which is surely a nice addition. To be honest, however, I rarely touch the pork in the stew as I’m more tempted by the flavorful mix of vegetables and tofu. However, it’s just a personal preference. If you’re not vegan, or if fish is okay with you, a spoonful of fish sauce will give the stew a zesty kick.
Watch the video below to see how to make it for yourself. I hope you enjoy! Please leave your comments below on your experiences making this recipe. Chúc ngon miệng!
VEGAN VIETNAMESE EGGPLANT & TOFU STEW
- Eggplant: 700 grams (1.5 lbs)
- Firm tofu: 600 grams (1.3 lb)
- Tomatoes: 250 grams (0.5 lb), cut into wedges
- Perilla leaves (could be replaced with shiso or basil): a bunch, chopped
- Wild betel leaves (optional): a bunch, chopped
- Tumeric powder: 2 tablespoons
- Salt: to taste
Step 1: Prepare the tofu
- Pat dry the tofu with paper towels. This prevents water in tofu from causing hot oil to spatter when frying.
- Cut tofu into 1/2 inch (about 1cm) thick pieces.
- Pre-heat a pan over medium heat. Add about 6 tablespoons cooking oil. Heat the oil. You can test by dipping a chopstick or a fork into the oil. If it drizzles, it’s ready.
- Carefully add tofu into the pan.
- Fry until one side is lightly golden. Turn and fry the other side until golden. Remove from heat and set aside.
Step 2: Prepare the eggplant
- Slice the eggplant diagonally.
- Boil a pot of salt water. Add eggplant to boiling water. Cover and cook until water boils again. Strain the eggplant and set aside.
Step 3: Cook it all together
- Pre-heat a saucepan. Add 3 tablespoons oil. Add garlic. Add eggplant, tumeric powder and salt to taste. Stir.
- Add fried tofu. Add a pinch of salt onto the tofu and stir.
- Add water to almost cover the tofu and eggplant (or less for a thicker stew)
- Cook on low heat for 30 to 40 minutes depending on how soft you want the eggplant to be.
- Turn off the heat. Add chop herbs. Stir and ready to serve.
Delicious with steamed jasmine rice or on its own.
Chúc ngon miệng!