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Stir-fried Aubergine and Onions

What is a colour that is a vegetable that is technically a fruit that goes by several names? Depending on where you come from, it is the brinjal, eggplant or aubergine. Growing up in Malaysia, I always knew it as the brinjal. When I lived in New Zealand and Australia, I quickly got used to it being called the eggplant. In the UK, it is called aubergine, which is also what it is called in French. Let’s not even get into which is derived from which. The names of this humble vegetable, um fruit, have travelled around the world and back, borrowing from African, Arabic, Sanskrit and filtered through Catalan, Portuguese, Hindi. All this gives you a clue that it is a very old fruit, and very well travelled.

Maybe the fact that there are so many cultivars of the plant gave rise to its many names. They are most commonly large, purple and oval-shaped, but white egg-shaped smaller ones also exist. In Asia, long cucumber-shaped ones are most common and they have a thinner, lighter purple skin to their oval-shaped cousins. There are also bi-coloured ones with white stripping or colour gradients. Whatever shape or colour the skin (which is perfectly edible) the flesh inside is spongy, white and turns brown when exposed to air. Salting, or soaking it in water, it will not only prevent this oxidation but also helps to draw out the bitter juices and apparently collapses the air pockets of the spongy flesh and thus preventing it from absorbing too much oil and becoming too greasy.

It is the start of the aubergine season in France, the peak being summer although it can be found quite easily all year round. Choose a fruit that is firm and heavy, with smooth unwrinkled skin. It will keep for several days in the fridge but if its too mature, the pulp will harden and there will be many dark seeds which should be removed or your dish will suffer for it.

How many ways have you eaten it? Probably in a multitude of ways: steamed, stir fried, braised, grilled, roasted, curried, stuffed, any way but raw or undercooked. And everywhere! Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Asian cuisines all boast a myriad of dishes highlighting the aubergine. I love a good ratatouille, or an aubergine parmigiana, but one of my go-tos is this aubergine and onions with soya sauce.

The recipe is not extraordinary by any means, but it is quick and simple, and one that needs only a couple of pantry staples. Children love it, and is an easy side dish served with rice and other dishes.

It is not the most photogenic of aubergine dishes, but it is delicious. I've used white pepper in the recipe, and a generous amount too, but you can use black pepper as substitute and its just as good. Make it as peppery as you like!

Because the globe variety has a thicker skin, I tend to remove some of it.

All you need for this recipe, besides the aubergines of course, are onions, light and dark soya sauces, and salt and pepper.

I’m using the term aubergine here since I am in France. The most common variety here is the large, oval shaped, dark purple ones which has a rather thick skin. I like to remove some of it, peeling alternate strips, leaving a striped aubergine. It is perfectly edible of course if you don’t. You may then cut into half rings, or wedges, if you prefer. If you think about it ahead of time, salting the aubergine will help to extract any bitter juices and will help to prevent it from absorbing too much oil and becoming greasy. To do this, just sprinkle a generous amount of salt over the cut pieces, leave to sit in a colander for half an hour to an hour. Rinse thoroughly with water, squeeze out the excess water and then pat dry with a paper towel.

Stir-fried Aubergines and Onions


serves 4 - 6

Prep Time 10 mins/Cook Time 25 mins/Total Time 35 mins

  • 2 large aubergines, peeled and cut in 1 cm half rings

  • 2 tsps light soya sauce

  • 2 tsps dark soya sauce

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 1/2 to 1 tsp ground white pepper

  • 2 large yellow onions, peeled and sliced

  • 3 tbsps cooking oil

  • 3/4 cup (177 ml) water


  1. Place the cut aubergines in a large bowl, add the 2 tsps light soya sauce, 2 tsps dark soya sauce, salt and pepper. Set aside while you prepare the onions.

  2. Peel and slice onions.

  3. Heat wok or frying pan, add 1 tbsp oil. Brown the onions. Remove and set aside.

  4. Add 2 tbsps oil in the same pan, add the aubergines. Cook the aubergines over medium high heat, stirring minimally to allow them to brown and char slightly, about 7 minutes. If cooking more or using a small pan, do this in two batches.

  5. Return the onions to the pan, mix well.

  6. Add the water, cover, let cook 10 minutes or so until the aubergines is tender and soft.

  7. Serve hot.


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