After publishing my spicy eggplant stir fry recipe, quite a few people asked if there was a way to prepare the eggplant with less oil. In that recipe, I shallow fry eggplant in 3/4 cup of oil, which softens the eggplant nicely, while preserving the lovely purple hue of the skin. Admittedly, I don’t cook food regularly with that much oil either.
That’s why I developed this air fryer eggplant recipe, which is more practical for everyday meals.
It uses much less oil, and the eggplant has a nice soft texture once it’s cooked. Simply brush the eggplant with oil and pop into the air fryer. I’m pairing the eggplant with an umami-packed miso sauce that is lightly sweet. The eggplant is so delicious, you’ll want to eat the whole batch by yourself!
COOKING NOTES FOR AIR FRYER EGGPLANT
USING ASIAN EGGPLANT
In general, I like cooking with the long and thin variety of purple eggplant, which can be labeled as Asian, Chinese, or Japanese eggplant in stores or farmers markets. This variety of eggplant has smaller seeds and typically isn’t bitter. If you can find Asian eggplant, I highly recommend using it for this recipe. Otherwise, feel free to substitute with whatever eggplant you can get your hands on.
The ingredients list for the sauce is pretty straightforward. However, I wanted to focus on two ingredients that may be slightly more difficult to find: miso and gochugaru.
When developing the recipe, I used white miso (see photograph above), which is a sweeter and less fermented variety of miso. If you can only find red miso or some other variety of miso, I recommend tasting the miso first. If the paste has a pretty strong funky fermented flavor, add 1 tablespoon of the miso to the sauce first. Then, taste the sauce and add more if needed.
Where to find miso: You can generally find miso in Asian grocery stores or the refrigerated foods aisles near other fermented foods.
I love using gochugaru, Korean pepper flakes, in my cooking because it brightens up the flavor of the dish without adding too much spice. If gochugaru is difficult to find, you can use 2 teaspoons of paprika instead. The flavor profile will be a little different, but it’ll definitely enhance the flavor of the sauce.
Where to find gochugaru: You can find gochugaru in Korean grocery stores, the Asian food aisles of general grocery stores, or on Amazon (these are my favorite brands: Mother-in-Law’s and Wang Korea (affiliate links).
TYPE OF AIR FRYER I USED
I own a Cosori air fryer (affiliate link) that has a large air fryer basket that I push into a machine. There are so many types of air fryers on the market right now. Some are multi-function toaster ovens with air frying capabilities; Instant Pot has developed an air fryer lid that you can fasten onto some models of pots. The heating mechanisms for all of these machines vary. Use the cooking times in my recipe as a guideline–you may need to increase or decrease the cooking time by a minute or two.
CAN I MAKE THIS RECIPE WITHOUT AN AIR FRYER?
You can bake the eggplant on lined baking sheets at 400ºF (205ºC). The eggplant will take twice as long to cook.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH AIR FRYER EGGPLANT
Air Fryer Eggplant with Miso Sauce
- 1/2 cup (118mL) water
- 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch
- 4 to 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon gochugaru (Korean pepper flakes), (see note 1)
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons white miso, (see note 2)
- 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds (567g to 680g) Chinese or Japanese eggplant
- sea salt or kosher salt
- toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
- sliced scallions or chives, for garnish
- Stir the water and cornstarch in a bowl and set aside.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds to a minute, stirring frequently. Give the cornstarch and water a quick stir again, in case the cornstarch settles to the bottom of the bowl. Carefully pour the water into the saucepan. Next, add the soy sauce, gochugaru, and sugar. Once the liquid reaches a boil, reduce the heat slightly and let it simmer for another 2 to 3 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and add the miso paste to the saucepan. Whisk the paste into the sauce. It usually takes me about a minute to fully incorporate the miso. Set the sauce aside.
- Rinse the eggplant and pat dry. Peel off the petals from the top of the eggplant and slice off the remainder of the stem.
- Slice the eggplant lengthwise into 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick planks. The two slices on the outside of each eggplant will have the most skin. I suggest using the tip of your knife to make several diagonal cuts to pierce the skin. This will help make the skin easier to eat later. If you are working with very long eggplants (anything over 8 inches long), I’d recommend slicing the eggplant in half crosswise so they can fit into the air fryer.
- Pour 3 tablespoons of olive oil into a small bowl. Brush both sides of each slice of eggplant with the olive oil. If you’re running out of olive oil, pour another tablespoon of oil into the small bowl. Sprinkle tiny pinches of salt over the eggplant slices.
Air Fry Eggplant
- Preheat the air fryer to 400ºF (205ºC). Working in batches, add the eggplant slices to the basket of your air fryer in a single layer. Try not to overlap the eggplant slices. Cook for 4 minutes. Flip the eggplant over and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, until the eggplant looks softened and slightly browned. Transfer the cooked eggplant to a plate and continue air frying the remaining eggplant.
- Using a spoon, spread miso sauce over all the eggplant slices. Garnish with sesame seeds and scallions. Serve the eggplant with jasmine rice or egg fried rice. You’ll likely have leftover miso sauce. Drizzle it over the rice! For some protein on the side, I like serving the eggplant with a fried egg or teriyaki tofu.
- Substituting Gochugaru: If gochugaru is difficult to find, you can use 2 teaspoons of paprika instead. The flavor profile will be a little different, but it’ll definitely enhance the flavor of the sauce.
- White Miso Alternatives: If you can only find red miso or some other variety of miso, I recommend tasting the miso first. If the paste has a pretty strong funky fermented flavor, add 1 tablespoon of the miso to the sauce first. Then, taste the sauce and add more if needed.
- Make Ahead Tips: You can air fry the eggplant and prepare the sauce a few days ahead. Refrigerate the cooked eggplant and sauce separately. Heat the eggplant in a skillet and the sauce in a saucepan for several minutes, until heated through.
- Variation Using Fuyu Butter: Instead of miso sauce, you can slather some of my fuyu butter on the air-fried eggplant. Fuyu is Chinese fermented bean curd.