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 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:
Japanese Ingredient Substitution: If you want to look for substitutes for Japanese condiments and ingredients, click here.
Soy-Glazed Eggplant Donburi
- 7 oz Japanese/Chinese eggplant (2 Japanese eggplants; if you use globe eggplant, cut into the wedges or rounds with skin on. Skin will keep the eggplant shape while cooking.)
- 10 shiso leaves (perilla/ooba) (or use 1 green onion)
- 1 knob ginger
- 2 Tbsp potato starch/cornstarch
- 4 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, rice bran, canola, etc) (separated; use 2 Tbsp at a time)
- ½ tsp toasted white sesame seeds
- Gather all the ingredients.
- Slice eggplant into ¼ inch slices and sprinkle salt (roughly ½-1 tsp). Set aside for 15 minutes and wipe off the moisture with a paper towel.
- Rinse the shiso leaves and dry with a paper towel. Discard the stems.
- Roll up the shiso leaves and cut into chiffonade strips.
- Peel the ginger skin and grate the ginger. You’ll need 1 tsp ginger.
- Put 2 Tbsp potato starch in a small tray and thinly coat the eggplant slices on both sides.
- Heat the 2 Tbsp oil in a frying pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, 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 to achieve a nice sear.
- When the bottom side is nicely seared, drizzle the rest of oil (2 Tbsp) on top and flip the eggplant slices to cook the other side, about 3-4 minutes.
- Once this side is cooked till golden brown, reduce the heat to medium-low heat and add mirin, soy sauce, and grated ginger.
- Bring it back to simmer and spoon the sauce over the eggplant a few times. If the sauce got thicken too fast (due to the potato starch), add 1 Tbsp water at a time to loosen a bit. Remove from the heat when the eggplant is well-coated with the sauce.
- Serve steamed rice in a donburi bowl (a bit bigger than rice bowl) and drizzle some sauce.
- Then place the eggplant slices on top. For presentation, I overlap each slice slightly. Garnish with shiso leaves and sprinkle sesame seeds. Serve immediately.