Despite being a meat lover, I simply adore this Vegan Vietnamese Tofu and Eggplant or Cà Tím Xào Đậu Hũ in Vietnamese, always have, since the first time I had it in Saigon, a lifetime ago. A really easy recipe to put together with the tofu and eggplant taking centerstage equally. If you put the rice on before you start, this becomes a 30 minute vegetarian/vegan dinner, the flavour is so strong in this recipe, it’s perfect with a bowl of steaming rice.
Despite its simplicity, there is so much going for it: the deep earthiness of the black bean sauce, the salty soy sauce, the spicy citrus flavour of the ginger, the sweetness of the palm sugar, all this finally topped with the smoky, nutty sesame oil and the freshness of the spring onions (scallions). Tasting it yet? That’s before we go into the contrasting textures of the crispy on the outside tofu and tender eggplant.
I make it fairly often at home, to accompany any Oriental dishes whether Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Burmese, Singaporean or Malaysian. Click on those links for the individual pages on this site. It goes so well as a side dish to so many dishes.
Cooking the Vegan Vietnamese Tofu and Eggplant
It’s a quick recipe, so as always, have everything at hand, ready to go.
The traditional recipe calls for the tofu to be deep fried, but I’ve reduced this down to a light sauté in a couple of teaspoons of oil. You’ll still get the crispy texture, without all the oil.
Black Bean Sauce – in the UK, this is easily available in big supermarkets and you can even find Black Bean Sauce with chilli, my preferred one for this recipe. If using the one with the chilli, omit the fresh chilli from the recipe. Black Bean sauce is used extensively in Chinese, East Asian (Japan, Korea) and South East Asian cuisines and has local names in all these countries. I think that this topic probably requires a post of its own, I’ll try and get that done asap and link up! Quick word: alway read the ingredients and get the one with the most black beans and least “other ingredients”.
Sesame seeds – an optional topping and you can toast them if you like but I prefer not to, to preserve the oils within. Adding sesame seeds to this dish also ups your protein intake, always an important thing for vegans or vegetarians.
Toasted Sesame Oil – adds a lovely nutty smoky flavour to the dish, only a small amount is needed.
Gluten Free – use tamari (Japanese soy sauce) in place of regular light soy sauce, or find other gluten free versions. Read more about soy sauces here.
Cooking Time – you can vary the cooking time for the eggplants, depending on how cooked you like them. The second picture in this post shows you a picture of the aubergines only cooked for a total of 5 minutes, and also without the seeds.
That’s it for our handy hints, let’s get cooking!
- 400g/14oz firm tofu
- 2 medium sized eggplants (aubergines)
- 3 spring onions (scallions)
- 5cm/2" ginger
- 3 medium garlic cloves
- 1-2 red chillies
- 2 tbsp black bean sauce
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tsp palm sugar (or half tsp regular white)
- half tsp salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- vegetable cooking oil
- Cut up the tofu into little cubes, about 2cm (just under an inch) long or so.
- Slice the eggplants into 4 long strips, then cut them up into slices, about 1cm (half an in roughly) thick.
- Slice up your spring onion, fairly thinly, as in the pictures and separate the white and the greens.
- Finely chop the ginger and garlic, either with a knife or in a food chopper or even a pestle and mortar.
- Combine the black bean sauce, soy sauce and palm sugar in a small bowl and keep aside.
- Heat a wok up on medium high heat and heat up 2 tsp of the oil.
- Fry the tofu on the high heat for about 3 minutes, stirring, to crisp up the tofu, turning them to brown all over.
- Turn out the tofu onto a plate and keep warm.
- Heat another tsp of oil in the wok, still on medium high heat and sauté the white part of the spring onions, the ginger, garlic and chilli for 2 minutes until fragrant. The chillies are going to make you cough. If you like, add the chillies in later with the sauces.
- Add the eggplants in, turn the heat up and fry them for 3 minutes, browning and crisping the eggplants up in the process. This caramelises them and provides a lovely smoky, bittersweet flavour.
- Next, add the tofu, the combined sauces, the salt and freshly ground black pepper, stir and bring back to boil.
- Lower heat down and simmer (just bubbling) for another 5 minutes, at which time your eggplants should be just done. If you like your eggplants mushy, cook them for longer. Check seasoning, add a bit more salt if needed.
- Take off heat and stir in the sesame oil.
- Serve immediately, garnished with the sesame seeds and green part of the spring onions.
- Serve it with the rice you cooked, some slices of cucumber or tomatoes or some salad leaves, and you have a complete meal in 30 minutes.