You are going to love this recipe for silky soft aubergine, with chewy shitake mushrooms and crispy tofu mixed in a tasty sauce bursting with Chinese sweet, salty and umami flavours. What’s more, this delicious gluten-free and vegan dish comes together with very little effort in half an hour, making it perfect for busy weeknights.
We are very lucky to have one of my favourite London Chinese restaurants, Hakkasan, here in Doha. I love going there because they do a fantastic vegan dim sum platter and have loads of vegan options so it is one of my favourite restaurants here!
This recipe is my attempt to re-create one of my favourite dishes at Hakkasan which is a version of the classic Sichuan dish, claypot aubergine with soft tofu and shitake mushrooms in a tasty Asian garlicky sauce. The only problem with it is that it has very soft wobbly tofu in it and I’m not a particular fan of that texture. I prefer firm tofu that is chewy rather than soft and wobbly. I also don’t own a Chinese claypot!
So, I decided to create a copycat recipe for the Hakkasan aubergine and tofu claypot dish, using firm tofu instead and cooked in a wok or a large skillet rather than a claypot! I’m so pleased with this recipe as it’s absolutely delicious and so quick and easy to make at home. Although it may not be as authentic as the Hakkasan version, it is certainly very tasty, easy and a real crowd-pleaser at home!
Why You Will Love This Recipe
This delicious chinese eggplant recipe is:
- the most tasty, silky soft aubergine (because it cooks in the sauce and soaks up all the flavours);
- quick and easy to make in only half an hour;
- perfectly balanced with sweet, salty and umami flavours;
- easy to make in advance and re-heats like a dream – perfect for entertaining!
This healthy vegan eggplant recipe has a trio of nutritious ingredients:
Aubergines (known as eggplants in USA) are particularly nutrient-dense as they contain large amounts of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre compared to their small amount of calories. They are particularly high in manganese, folate and potassium as well as vitamins K and C. They also contain other antioxidants, especially anthocyanins, that help protect your body against free radicals. (For more information, see this Healthline article about the health benefits of eggplants.)
Tofu (also known as bean curd) is made from soy milk pressed into blocks. As a soy product, people are sometimes wary of this healthy ingredient because of the GMO soy crops that make up so much of soybean production in the US. If you want to avoid GMOs, just choose organic tofu or tofu that is labelled as GMO-free. There have also been erroneous headlines about tofu being unhealthy and possibly causing cancer, which have since been proved to be incorrect but somehow live on in collective memory. Tofu is in fact an extremely healthy ingredient and a great source of protein for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet. As well as being high in protein, it is also full of vitamins and minerals as well as essential fats and carbohydrates. (For more information, see this Healthline article about tofu or this Medical News Today article about the particular health benefits!)
Shitake mushrooms are one of the few vegan food sources of vitamin D (you mostly get this vitamin from the sun!). They are also high in copper and selenium, as well as a host of other vitamins and minerals. Shitake mushrooms may also help to reduce cholesterol in the blood because of their eritadenine content. (See this fascinating WebMD article about shitake mushrooms for more information about this!)
Like most Asian recipes, there is a bit of sugar in this recipe so it is not completely healthy but it is only a small amount and if you make your own hoisin sauce (which stores well in the fridge for a few weeks) you can control the ingredients and use a less refined sugar that at least provides other nutrients together with the sugar load.
- Aubergines (eggplants) – Ideally you would use Chinese or japanese eggplants as these are the most authentic and, apparently, are less bitter. Since I can’t easily get hold of them, I use just regular regular eggplant (aubergine) and it works just fine. Since we are salting the eggplants first, we are removing most of the bitterness anyway and the tasty sauce balances out any other bitterness so you wouldn’t notice the difference.
- Firm Tofu – The traditional recipe uses soft or silken tofu but I am not a fan of the sloppy texture from braised soft tofu so I prefer to use pressed firm or extra-firm tofu. In this recipe, I also fry (or air fry) the tofu separately and only add it to the sauce at the end, so that it stays crispy and firm. You could use soft tofu if you prefer that texture though.
- Shitake Mushrooms – I like the texture of shitake mushrooms in this recipe. However, feel free to substitute for any other flavourful mushroom that you prefer. I would say that regular white mushrooms probably won’t be suitable because of their different texture and bland flavour.
- Red Onion – these are best for adding a slight sweetness to the dish, more than regular brown onions would do because of the quick stir-frying. If all you have is brown or white onions, then they will be fine to use.
- Cornstarch – this is used for two purposes: first, to dust on the tofu and make it crispy; and second, to thicken the sauce. In both cases, you could swap for any other gluten-free starch (arrowroot, potato starch, tapioca starch) instead. I just find corn starch easier to work with for thickening sauces.
- Ginger and Garlic – these are absolute staples for me and especially so in Asian cooking. There is quite a lot of ginger and garlic in this sauce to make it really tasty. They are full of antioxidants too!
- Tamari – this is a Japanese soy sauce that is naturally gluten-free. You could use gluten-free soy sauce or coconut aminos instead.
- Shaoxing wine (or mirin) – you can usually find Shaoxing wine in Asian grocery stores but if you can’t get hold of any (I can’t easily get this in Qatar), mirin is a great alternative as the Japanese rice wine equivalent. It is a little sweeter than Shaoxing wine so if you are using mirin, perhaps add a little less hoisin sauce at first, and taste before adding the full amount.
- Hoisin sauce – since hoisin sauce often contains gluten (check the ingredients label carefully if you buy it in the shops), I usually just make my own homemade hoisin sauce and keep it in a jar at the back of the fridge to use for stir-fries, etc. It is very easy to make and keeps for at least a few weeks because of the sugar content.
- Rice vinegar – the acidity in the vinegar balances out the sweet and salty flavours. If you don’t have any, you could substitute with apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar instead.
- Toasted sesame oil – make sure to choose toasted sesame oil rather than plain sesame oil which has a completely different flavour profile and is not nearly as flavoursome.
Please see the printable recipe card at the bottom of this post for full list of ingredients and their quantities.
How To Make Chinese Braised Aubergine & Tofu
There are four main steps to this recipe:
- Preparing the ingredients.
- Cooking the tofu.
- Stir-frying the vegetables.
- Braising for 15 minutes with the sauce ingredients.
Preparing the ingredients
First, you need to prep everything in advance. So, before you start cooking, you need to:
- press and chop the tofu (see Chef’s Tips for how to do this);
- chop and salt the aubergine (see the notes in Chef’s Tips for more information about why we do this);
- chop the other vegetables; and
- mix together the sauce ingredients.
Cooking the tofu
Dust the pressed chopped tofu cubes with cornstarch and salt and pepper by mixing them in a small bowl. Then there are two different ways you can cook the tofu.
- I like to air fry them for 8 minutes at 200°C/400°F (or you can roast in the oven).
- Alternatively, if you prefer, you could fry the tofu cubes in the wok before you start stir-frying the vegetables. It is a little more time consuming because you can’t do it at the same time like you would if air frying or roasting, and also because you need to fry all of the 6 sides of the tofu cubes so it requires you to stand over the hob and keep turning each piece with tongs. I mention it as an option though as some people just prefer frying.
Stir-frying the vegetables
Once you have chopped everything, it is very simple to stir-fry the onion, garlic, ginger, chillies and mushrooms for a few minutes until browned. Since stir-frying is a quick cooking method, you always need to stir-fry over a high heat, constantly moving everything around the pan with a spatula so that nothing catches. It should take about 5 minutes in total.
Braising with the sauce ingredients
Once the vegetables have browned, add the salted, rinsed and dried aubergine and the sauce ingredients (except the cornstarch), stir and bring to the boil. Once it comes to the boil, turn the heat down to low and put the lid on. Simmer over the low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t catch on the bottom. Add a little more water if it does start to catch.
After this, you just mix the cornstarch and water into what’s known as a cornstarch slurry, and pour it into the pan. Mix in the tofu cubes at the same time. Simmer over the heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thick and glossy.
This is a summary only. Please see the printable recipe card at the bottom of this page for full instructions.
- Salting the aubergine is an important step because it removes any bitter juices. It is so easy to salt the aubergine. Just chop it up, put it in a bowl, sprinkle salt on top, mix it together, then put it in a colander set over the bowl. Leave it for 15 minutes or so, then rinse the colander under a running tap to wash off the salt and any bitter juices that have been drawn out of the aubergine. Then just dab it dry with a clean kitchen towel and it is ready to use.
- Pressing the tofu removes excess water and helps to make the tofu crispy on the outside, and chewy on the inside rather than soft. To press tofu, open the pack and drain any liquid. Then, either use a tofu press for around 15 minutes (this is the quickest and simplest option!) or rest the tofu on a paper-towel-lined plate with some folded up pieces of paper towels on top and underneath it, then set a plate on top and a heavy pan or some tins of beans or something else heavy. Leave for an hour or so, draining the liquid that comes out every so often.
- The tofu texture is also improved by freezing the tofu beforehand. Freezing tofu means that the liquid inside it is frozen and, when thawed, it leaves these holes in the tofu which gives it a sponge-like consistency. You often find this texture of tofu in Thai and Chinese restaurants. To achieve this, I usually put my tofu straight into the freezer when I come back from the supermarket, then take it out a day later and put it in the fridge to be ready for whenever I want to use it. That way, it has the benefit of the improved texture from freezing but without the hassle of needing to remember to defrost it before you want to use it.
This braised aubergine dish is perfect with some steamed jasmine rice and garnished with some toasted sesame seeds and coriander (cilantro) leaves. I also like to drizzle on chilli oil or this amazing chilli oil with crunchy garlic.
You could also make this delicious recipe as part of a Chinese meal, with some vegan san choy bau or Chinese fried oyster mushrooms as a starter and then this Chinese braised eggplant and tofu as a main course with some steamed rice and Chinese green beans (with or without the tempeh in that recipe) or crispy kale (dressed with sesame seeds and tamari instead of the nutritional yeast) as side dishes. Delicious! Mango sorbet would make an excellent refreshing dessert for this meal!
I have already suggested substitutions in the ingredients section above. For variations, you could leave out the mushrooms altogether if you don’t like mushrooms, or substitute the hoisin sauce for vegan oyster sauce if you want to change the flavour profile slightly.
Making Ahead & Storage
This dish is excellent for entertaining because you can make it ahead and just re-heat it when needed.
To make ahead, cook the dish up to the point of finishing braising but only braise for about 10 minutes (the dish will cook some more on re-heating). Do not add the cornstarch slurry or the cooked tofu until it is time to re-heat the dish. Keep the cooked tofu separate in an airtight container and the aubergine sauce in another airtight container in the fridge. Then, when you want to serve it, re-heat it in a pan and when it is just starting to boil, add the cornstarch slurry and the cooked tofu cubes. Mix together and boil over the heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring, until it goes thick and glossy as per the recipe.
If you have any leftovers you can store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days (less the number of days already stored before serving) or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Re-heat by gently heating in a pan, stirring frequently to ensure the cornstarch doesn’t clump up. You may need to add a touch more water to loosen up the sauce a bit.
Yes! Traditionally, the authentic Szechuan dish may not be vegan as the sauce ingredient may contain seafood, but this version is vegan!
Yes - make sure you only buy gluten-free soy sauce or tamari, and gluten-free hoisin sauce (or you can easily make your own with this gf hoisin sauce recipe).
Yes – aubergine is the name used in the UK and eggplant is the name used in the USA. Both names refer to the same vegetable.
📖 Recipe 📖
Chinese Braised Aubergine and Tofu
- 2-3 aubergines (eggplants), chopped into oblong chunks
- 2 tablespoon grapeseed oil, (or vegetable oil)
- 1 red onion, chopped into chunks
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced or minced
- 1 inch piece of ginger, finely grated or chopped into small pieces
- 1 long red chilli, finely diced
- 200 g shitake mushrooms, sliced
For the tofu:
- 1 x 350g pack of firm or extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed, then cut into cubes
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 pinch salt and pepper
- 3 tablespoon tamari, (or gluten-free soy sauce)
- 2 tablespoon Shaoxing wine, (or mirin)
- 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
- 2 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch, (or arrowroot powder)
- toasted sesame seeds, coriander leaves (cilantro), chilli oil
- Chop the aubergine then place it in a bowl and sprinkle liberally with salt (about 1-2 teaspoons). Mix them together well then transfer into a colander and set it over the bowl. Leave for 15 minutes. After that time, rinse the aubergine in the colander under a running tap to rinse off the salt and any bitter juices that have been drawn out. Then shake off any excess water and pat the aubergine dry(ish) with some paper towels or a clean tea towel.2-3 aubergines (eggplants)
- Drain and press the tofu then chop into chunks (roughly the same size as the aubergine chunks).1 x 350g pack of firm or extra-firm tofu
- Chop the red onion, garlic, ginger, red chilli and shitake mushrooms.1 red onion, 1 inch piece of ginger, 4 garlic cloves, 1 long red chilli, 200 g shitake mushrooms
- Mix together the sauce ingredients (except the cornstarch) in a small jug.3 tablespoon tamari, 2 tablespoon Shaoxing wine, 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce, 2 teaspoon rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, 1 cup water
- Heat 1-2 tablespoon grapeseed oil in a wok or large frying pan over a medium-high heat, then when hot, add the chopped onion and stir-fry for 3 minutes until browned.
- Add the garlic, ginger, chilli and mushrooms, and continue to stir-fry for 2 more minutes.
- Add the chopped aubergine and the jug of sauce and stir well. Let it come to the boil, then turn the heat down to low and put the lid on. Leave to simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, cook the tofu. In a small bowl, mix the tofu cubes with cornstarch and salt and pepper. Lay in a single layer in the air fryer basket or on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Then air fry or oven bake at 200°C / 400°F for 8 minutes (air fryer) or 15 minutes (oven), turning half way through the cooking time.1 x 350g pack of firm or extra-firm tofu, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 1 pinch salt and pepper
- After 15 minutes of the aubergine simmering, add the browned tofu to the aubergine pan and stir together well. Mix 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with a little cold water in a cup to make a smooth liquid, then pour it into the aubergine pan and stir well. Cook for 5 minutes over a medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce goes glossy and thick (you can always add a touch more water if it goes too thick).
- Serve with brown or white rice and sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds and coriander leaves on top. Drizzle chilli oil or grind some sichuan peppercorns over the top for extra heat.
- Salting the aubergine draws out any bitter juices. Rinse them after salting so that you wash away the salt and any bitter juices that have been drawn out.
- For cooking the tofu, you could alternatively sauté the tofu in the frying pan before you start cooking the rest of the dish. Turn the tofu cubes to brown each side. Remove from the pan once browned and set aside until later.
Did you make this recipe? Please leave a ⭐ star rating ⭐ on the recipe card!
More Vegan and Gluten-Free Recipes
If you like this Chinese braised eggplant and tofu recipe, you may like these other delicious vegan and gluten-free dinner recipes too:
Or check my Chinese New Year page if you are planning recipes for a lunar new year feast!
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