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How to sauté eggplant to perfection – tender in the middle, slightly ‘meaty’, and crisp/caramelized outside, this sautéed eggplant is easy to prepare, ready in 20 minutes, and a versatile vegan side dish – made even more delicious with a simple maple soy glaze!

completed Perfect Sautéed Eggplant plated on a plate against a white background

Eggplant is a budget-friendly, versatile, and delicious addition to any meat-free kitchen when cooked correctly (and, unfortunately, can be soggy, greasy, mushy, and/or uninspiring with the wrong recipe). Luckily, this method for cooking eggplant on the stove comes out light, melt-in-the-mouth tender, caramelized (even more than roasting!), and packed with flavor!

Even better, with this recipe, you get two for one! First, the eggplant is sautéed until crisp and caramelized – and you could stop right there for perfectly pan-seared eggplant. However, we’ve taken things one step further by tossing it into a delicious sweet and savory, Asian-inspired, maple-soy glaze, transforming an already delicious side into a moreish delicacy to enjoy year-round with noodles, rice, and more.

Why You’ll Love This Sautéed Eggplant Recipe

  1. It’s quick! Cooking eggplant on the stove is one of the quickest (and easiest) ways to prepare and cook eggplant, perfect for a last-minute delicious, nutritious side dish.
  2. It’s easy! Just a few ingredients, one pan, and a handful of fuss-free steps. No waiting for the oven to preheat, no salting, and no soaking required!
  3. It’s healthy! Eggplant is a great source of fiber, antioxidants, and several vitamins and minerals. By pan-frying it, you’re also adding minimal fat. Plus, if you use the maple-soy sauce, you can adapt the recipe as needed.
  4. It’s diet-friendly! As this simple eggplant is sauteed with garlic, this side is gluten-free, low-carb, keto, vegan, paleo, and more.
  5. It’s delicious! Pan-seared eggplant enables you to perfectly cook the interior until soft and creamy, achieving a browned, slightly crisp crust outside and enhancing its naturally sweet and earthy flavor. When combined with simple maple-soy sauce, it’s extraordinary.
  6. It’s versatile! Eggplant has a bit of a ‘meatiness’ to it, making it great for enjoying not only as a side but also as a meat substitute in mains like curries, pasta, risotto, and more.

The Ingredients

At its simplest, sautéed eggplant requires only eggplant, salt, and pepper (and personally, we also love some garlic powder, too). However, to take things to the next level, we’ve made this skillet eggplant with delicious Asian-inspired soy-maple sauce.

ingredients for Perfect Sautéed Eggplant measured out against a white surface
  • Eggplant: We used Globe eggplant, which is the most widely available in the US. However, other varieties will work, too. Chinese eggplant works best for cutting slices (as they’re longer and thinner than other varieties).
  • Olive oil: We love using this heart-healthy fat, though other cooking oils will work, too.

You could also choose to pan-fry eggplant with extra veggies, like sliced onion, mushrooms, bell peppers, and/or zucchini.

The Soy Maple Glaze

  • Garlic: Fresh is best, though garlic powder will work in a pinch.
  • Black pepper: To add a little heat.
  • Soy sauce: For salty, umami-rich flavor. Use reduced-sodium soy sauce if preferred, though we recommend using 50/50 light and dark soy sauce for the best flavor.
  • Maple syrup: Or agave syrup. This pairs perfectly with the soy sauce and red pepper flakes for a sweet-savory-spicy sauce. Use a keto version if preferred.
  • To garnish: This soy-glazed eggplant pairs wonderfully with thinly sliced green onions (aka scallions) and sesame seeds. Add red pepper flakes (or thinly sliced chili) if you like spice.

Optionally add tangy depth to the eggplant recipe with a teaspoon of minced ginger, a splash of Chinese black vinegar or white rice vinegar.

How to Choose the Best Eggplant?

Step one to achieving the best skillet eggplant is using the best eggplant. Here are a few things to look for.

  • While the color of the eggplant can vary based on type (Globe, Japanese/Chinese, Thai, Italian, etc.), select ones that have glossy, taut, smooth skin (not dull or wrinkled).
  • When giving the eggplant a squeeze, it should feel firm with just a little give – not soft or mushy. It should also feel heavy for its size.
  • The stem should be a vibrant green rather than brown and/or dried out.

Smaller (with fewer seeds), fresh eggplants are best for avoiding bitterness. The more they age, the more bitter they become, too, so use them quickly.

Seasoning Variations

Because of its mild flavor, there is no shortage of ways to boost the flavor of simple sautéed eggplant aside from our maple-soy sauce glaze. Here are just a few of our favorite alternatives.

  • Salt + black pepper + garlic powder/minced garlic
  • Dried herbs (like oregano, basil, thyme, or even Italian seasoning)
  • Fresh herbs (like parsley, basil, chives, or green onions, to garnish)
  • Smoked paprika (to add a subtle smokiness)
  • Cumin (will impart an earthy, savory flavor)
  • Cayenne pepper or chili powder (for some spice)
  • Nutritional yeast (for a nutty, ‘cheesy’ flavor)
  • Lemon wedges (or a little lemon zest to serve with for extra brightness and depth)

How to Make Sautéed Eggplant

  • 1) First, rinse, dry, and cube the eggplant into 1-inch cubes (or ¼-½-inch slices – which have a larger surface area to caramelize and only need to be flipped once).
chopped eggplant in a white bowl
  • 2) Prepare the maple-soy sauce (if you plan to use it) by whisking the soy sauce, maple syrup, and water in a small bowl.
  • 3) Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  • 4) Once hot, add the cubed eggplant in a single layer and cook for about 2-3 minutes per side until they are all golden brown.

It can take up to 5 minutes per side based on how browned and ‘crusty’ you’d like the sautéed eggplant to be.

  • 5) Add the garlic and cook for another 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently until it’s browned (but not burned).
process shot post adding garlic to pan
  • 6) Remove the pan from the heat, add the sauce (if using) and black pepper, mix well, and then cover with a lid, leaving it to sit for 2-3 minutes.
  • 7) Finally, optionally garnish the maple soy glazed eggplant with sliced green onions, red pepper flakes, and/or sesame seeds.

Recipe Pro Tips

  • For simple sauteed eggplant: Complete steps 1,3,4 and 5 in the recipe, seasoning it with salt and pepper during step 5.
  • Cut even-sized pieces: This will ensure they cook at an even rate.
  • Use fairly high heat: Just like deep-frying, hot heat will stop the eggplant from overly absorbing oil (since it’s like a sponge!). Instead, you’ll end up with delicious, caramelized eggplant morsels that crisp on the outside while tender in the middle. Delicious!
  • Don’t overcrowd the pan: Otherwise, the eggplant will steam and not crisp up (which is lackluster at best!). Cook in batches if needed.
  • Don’t move the eggplant too much: You want to make pan-seared eggplant rather than moving it around. Only touch it when flipping. This is crucial to achieving a wonderful golden brown crust.

FAQs

Do you have to salt eggplant before sauteing?

Salting was primarily to remove bitterness, which has largely been bred from eggplant, so it is no longer necessary. Salting will also remove excess liquid, though, for a more tender texture, so add the step if preferred.

Generously salt the chopped eggplant and place it in a colander in the sink for 30-60 minutes to sweat. Pat away excess liquid (and salt), pressing down as you do. Then continue with the recipe.

Does eggplant need to be soaked before sautéing?

Soaking (or ‘brining’) eggplant in salt water for 20-30 minutes will stop the eggplant from absorbing as much oil while cooking, adding flavor and firmer texture. However, it’s not necessary for delicious, sautéed eggplant.

Do you have to peel eggplant?

No, it’s completely edible and softens as it cooks unless you’re using a large/old eggplant (in which case, you may prefer to peel it).

completed Perfect Sautéed Eggplant plated on a plate against a white background

What to Serve With Pan-Fried Eggplant?

You can enjoy the simple sautéed eggplant with garlic as a side dish for any meal you’d like or use it within other meals, like:

When making eggplant in garlic sauce, we love serving it over a bed of rice or noodles.

Storage Instructions

While we prefer the texture of eggplant sautéed immediately after cooking, store any cooled leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-5 days.

You can also freeze it in freezer bags or containers for 4-6 months (up to a year!). To avoid sticking, first flash freeze them across a tray until solid. Allow them to thaw in the fridge overnight when needed.

To reheat the eggplant, add them back to a pan with a little more oil (omit the oil if they’re in the maple-soy sauce), toss them directly into a simmering sauce, or even pop large amounts into the oven or an air fryer (at 350F) until heated through.

More Vegan Eggplant Recipes

Photos by Alfonso Revilla

completed Perfect Sautéed Eggplant plated on a plate against a white background

Perfect Sautéed Eggplant [+ Maple Soy Glaze]

5 from 40 votes
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Total: 19 minutes
Servings: 4
This Sautéed Eggplant is tender in the middle, slightly 'meaty', crisp/caramelized on the outside, is easy to prepare, ready in 20 minutes, and a versatile vegan side dish – made even more delicious with a simple maple soy glaze!

Ingredients 

  • 2 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of agave or maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons of water
  • 1 eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes (not peeled)
  • 3 garlic cloves thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of oil
  • ¼ teaspoon of black pepper
  • 3 springs green onions, thinly sliced
  • Crushed red pepper for garnish, optional
  • Sesame seeds for garnish, optional

Instructions 

  • In a small bowl, whisk the soy sauce, agave or maple syrup, and water.
  • In a large pan with a lid, over medium-high heat, add the oil.
  • Carefully add the cubed eggplant to the pan and cook for 2 minutes each side or until golden brown. Add the garlic and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently until the garlic is nice and brown, but not burned.
  • Turn off the heat, add the sauce, black pepper, mix well and cover with a lid. Let it sit covered for 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Garnish with green onions, and optional crushed red pepper, or sesame seeds.
  • Serve hot.

Notes

  • Cut even-sized pieces: This will ensure they cook at an even rate.
  • Use fairly high heat: Just like deep-frying, hot heat will stop the eggplant from overly absorbing oil (since it’s like a sponge!). Instead, you’ll end up with delicious, caramelized eggplant morsels that crisp on the outside while tender in the middle. Delicious!
  • Don’t overcrowd the pan: Otherwise, the eggplant will steam and not crisp up (which is lackluster at best!). Cook in batches if needed.
  • Don’t move the eggplant too much: You want to make pan-seared eggplant rather than moving it around. Only touch it when flipping. This is crucial to achieving a wonderful golden brown crust.

Nutrition

Calories: 88kcalCarbohydrates: 12gProtein: 2gFat: 4gSaturated Fat: 0.5gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gSodium: 506mgPotassium: 297mgFiber: 4gSugar: 8gVitamin A: 35IUVitamin C: 4mgCalcium: 22mgIron: 1mg

Disclaimer: Although plantbasedonabudget.com attempts to provide accurate nutritional information, kindly note that these are only estimates. Nutritional information may be affected based on the product type, the brand that was purchased, and in other unforeseeable ways. Plantbasedonabudget.com will not be held liable for any loss or damage resulting for your reliance on nutritional information. If you need to follow a specific caloric regimen, please consult your doctor first.

Additional Info

Author: Toni Okamoto
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Method: Stovetop
Diet: Vegan
Keywords: eggplant, eggplant recipes, eggplant side dish, glaze recipes, healthy recipes, healthy vegan recipes, quick recipes, sauteed eggplant, simple recipes, vegan side dish, vegetarian side dish
Tried this recipe?Please tag us at @PlantBasedOnABudget! 🙂
About

Toni Okamoto

“They say you are what you eat, so I strive to be healthy.
My goal in life is not to be rich or wealthy,
‘Cause true wealth comes from good health and wise ways…
we got to start taking better care of ourselves ” – Dead Prez

More about Toni Okamoto

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  1. 5 stars
    I recently tried out one of your recipes and it was a hit with my family! Your cookbooks are definitely worth having on hand. Your recipe ‘Perfect Sautéed Eggplant’ is a wonderful recipe. Honey Butter

  2. 5 stars
    The glaze on this eggplant is so good! Everything tastes so good together in this dish. Great recipe!