I remember the first time I had basil in a stir-fry. I had always enjoyed Italian basil in Mediterranean food. I love Thai basil in pho, the classic Vietnamese rice noodle soup. But basil in a stir-fry is the good stuff that will blow your taste buds away.
Stir-frying is a great cooking formula to know because you can throw anything into a wok and rely on the stir-fry sauce to bind it together into a cohesive dish. In the case of a Thai stir-fry, we also have the help of fragrant basil to add finish and flavor to all the other ingredients. To impart more Thai flavors into our stir-fry, we also use fish sauce and lime juice.
This Thai basil stir-fry recipe is for one of my favorite vegetable combinations – onions, Chinese eggplant, and peppers. If you can’t find Chinese eggplant, which is long and skinny, use whatever eggplant you typically purchase. While Thai basil clearly is what you would find in an Asian restaurant, you might not be able to find it at the store unless you are at an Asian grocer or a very well-stocked supermarket. If that’s the case, your standard Italian basil will still yield delicious results.
Regardless of basil type, remember that basil is delicate. To keep it from turning completely brown, add it at the very end of cooking after the heat has been turned off. The heat from the ingredients draws out basil’s fragrance. Walk out of your kitchen and come back in, and you will be knocked away by how good it smells
What are your favorite vegetables for stir-frying? We bet you they would taste even better finished with basil!
- Garlic, minced – 3 cloves
- Onion, sliced – 1
- Chinese eggplant, sliced thinly – 1 lb.
- Red pepper, sliced thinly – 1
- Green pepper, sliced thinly – 1
- Super-firm tofu, preferably vacuum-packed – 1 lb.
- Corn starch – 2 tbs. + 1 tbs.
- Fish sauce – 3 tbs.
- Soy sauce – 1 tbs.
- Brown sugar – 1 tbs.
- Chicken stock – 1 cup
- Canola / grapeseed oil – 2 tbs.
- Basil – 12 leaves
- Lime – ½
- Garlic / Onion / Eggplant / Peppers – Prep as directed
- Tofu – Chop into ½” cubes. Season with S&P, and toss and cover evenly with 2 tbs. corn starch
- Mix together 1 tbs. corn starch, fish and soy sauce, brown sugar, and stock
- Heat a wok over medium-high heat. Add 1 tbs. oil and then tofu or chicken breast to heated oil. Toss protein until it’s coated in oil, and then spread out into one even layer. Let sit for ~2 minutes so it sears. Turn onto other side and sear for another 2 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside (chicken won’t be cooked through yet, that’s OK)
- Return wok to medium-high heat. Add another tbs. of oil and then minced garlic to heated oil. Once you can smell the garlic, add onions with a dash of salt. Stir-fry for 3 minutes
- Add eggplant with another dash of salt and stir-fry for 5 minutes
- Add peppers and stir-fry for 1 minute
- Return protein back to pan and then push all ingredients to the side of the pan to form a donut. Stir the sauce to make sure any corn starch that has sunk gets redistributed. Pour into the donut of the wok and wait for mixture to boil and thicken. Once that happens toss everything through and take off heat when vegetables are almost cooked through
- Mix in basil leaves. Season to taste with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lime juice
- Basil type – Don’t worry about finding Thai basil. Unless you’re at an Asian grocer, you will usually find the Italian variety.
- Not into tofu? Substitute with skinless, boneless chicken breast. Follow the same instructions but season it with some salt & pepper and tenderize it with a fork before covering in corn starch
- Vegetarian? Make this completely vegetarian by using only soy sauce or finding a vegetarian fish sauce substitute. Vegetable broth or water can be used instead of chicken stock as well