Thinly sliced eggplant seared till golden brown, coated with sweet soy sauce, and served over a warm bowl of rice. So incredibly delicious, this Soy-Glazed Eggplant Donburi is a Japanese vegan rice bowl that deserves a spot at your weeknight table! Just 20 minutes from start to finish.
What do you consider a quick meal? For me, anything cooks in one pot or one pan are most ideal. That’s why I often turn to Japanese rice bowls (donburi) when I need something fast and easy-to-assemble. Today’s recipe is Soy Glazed Eggplant Donburi (茄子の甘辛丼), which happens to be plant-based!
Eggplant Rice Bowl – The Most Luxurious Vegan Donburi
Eggplant is undoubtedly the star ingredient that makes the appeal of this rice bowl. Think of it as the tofu of the vegetable world. It is mild and versatile, and it has the ability to take on almost any flavor. What sets eggplant apart from other vegetables is its unique structural integrity, and at the same time, its silky, meaty, and utterly luxurious texture.
That said, it’s very important to cook it right. Here, searing the eggplant until nicely charred delivers the best, deepest flavor. It also renders a buttery tender texture with a crispy edge that is hard to resist. When tossed with a quick sauce of mirin and soy sauce, it makes the most satisfying one-bowl comfort that requires minimal effort.
I could easily cook and eat this eggplant donburi over and over again!
3 Tips to Follow When Cooking the Eggplant
1. Keep the eggplant skin
Eggplant flesh gets tender and soft when it’s cooked through, and if you cook it for too long, the flesh gets mushy. Therefore, it’s very important to:
- Keep the eggplant skin attached to the flesh to maintain its shape.
- Cut the eggplant so the flesh is held by the skin.
For this purpose, I only recommend using Japanese, Chinese, or Italian eggplant. If you use American/glove eggplant, cut into the wedges and use only the part that has skin (and use the middle part for other recipes).
2. Sprinkle salt
Eggplant has soft, spongy flesh with tiny air pockets that acts like a sponge in soaking up oil and liquids. While we like the eggplant to absorb all the good flavors, the challenge is to prevent it from becoming greasy.
The trick to that is by breaking down the air pockets and reducing the sponginess by salting the eggplant first. Salting also prevents the eggplant from discoloring.
Just make sure to wipe off the excess water before frying.
3. Use potato starch/cornstarch
Coating the eggplant with potato starch (or cornstarch) can help:
- Prevents the eggplant from soaking up all the oil.
- Creates a nice golden crust.
- Absorbs all the seasonings.
- Thickens the sauce slightly.
Make sure to remove the excess potato starch and applies only a thin coating.
Eggplant skeptics? This Soy-Glazed Eggplant Donburi might change your mind. I hope you give this nightshade vegetable a chance to reveal its deliciousness to you through this recipe. Once tried, you will not get enough of it.
To enjoy this vegan rice bowl, serve it with miso soup and a side of pickle. Here are some of my suggestions:
Other Delicious Vegan Dishes
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Soy-Glazed Eggplant Donburi
- 7 oz Japanese or Chinese eggplant (2 Japanese eggplants for 2 servings; if you use a globe eggplant, cut it into wedges or rounds with the skin on to keep the eggplant's shape while cooking)
- ½–1 tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt) (for salting the eggplant slices)
- 10 shiso leaves (perilla/ooba) (or use 1 green onion per 2 servings)
- 1 knob ginger (1 inch, 2.5 cm per knob)
- 2 Tbsp potato starch or cornstarch
- 4 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, rice bran, canola, etc.) (divided)
For the Seasonings
- 4 Tbsp mirin (a fairly close substitute is 4 tsp sugar + 4 Tbsp sake/water per 2 servings; adjust the sweetness to taste; read more about mirin)
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce (or use GF soy sauce for gluten-free)
- 2 servings cooked Japanese short-grain rice (1½ rice cooker cups (180 ml x 1.5 = 270 ml) of uncooked rice yield roughly 2 donburi servings; see how to cook short-grain rice with a rice cooker, pot over the stove, Instant Pot, or donabe)
- ½ tsp toasted white sesame seeds
- Gather all the ingredients.
- Slice the eggplants lengthwise into ¼-inch slices. Then, sprinkle with salt (roughly ½–1 tsp per 2 Japanese eggplants). Set aside for 15 minutes, then wipe off the moisture with a paper towel.
- Rinse the shiso leaves and pat dry with a paper towel. Cut off and discard the stems.
- Roll up the shiso leaves and cut them into chiffonade strips.
- Peel the ginger skin and grate the ginger (I use a ceramic grater). Then, measure 1 tsp ginger (for 2 servings) and set aside.
- Put the potato starch in a small tray. Then, thinly coat both sides of the eggplant slices with the potato starch.
- Heat a frying pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add 2 Tbsp of oil (for 2 Japanese eggplants) and distribute it in the pan. Then, add the eggplant slices in a single layer. Cook until the bottom side is golden brown, about 3–4 minutes. Until then, do not touch the eggplants in order to achieve a nice sear.
- When the bottom side is nicely seared, drizzle another 2 Tbsp of oil on top of the eggplant and flip the slices to cook the other side for an additional 3–4 minutes.
- Once the second side is cooked to a golden brown color, reduce the heat to medium low. Add the mirin, soy sauce, and measured grated ginger.
- Bring it back to a simmer and spoon the sauce over the eggplant a few times. If the sauce thickens too fast (due to the potato starch), add 1 Tbsp water at a time to loosen it a bit. Remove from the heat when the eggplant is well-coated with the sauce.
- Serve the hot steamed rice in individual donburi bowls (a bit bigger than rice bowls) and drizzle some sauce on top of the rice.
- Then, place the eggplant slices on top. For presentation, I overlap each slice slightly. Garnish on top with the sesame seeds and shiso leaves. Serve immediately.