This vegan "unagi" don is made with eggplant! The eggplant is cooked until tender with melt-in-your mouth texture, glazed with a sweet and savory tare sauce, and served over a bowl of white rice. It's super easy to make and takes only 15 minutes!
This vegan eggplant unagi don is seriously a classic unagi don's doppelgänger! The appearance of the eggplant unagi don is very similar to the real deal and the texture of the eggplant is melt-in-your-mouth.
It's honestly so good, and it's now Kyong's go to vegan/vegetarian rice bowl recipe!
You can enjoy this eggplant unagi don with miso soup and pickles like our cucumber kimchi. If you want a bit healthier alternative, you can even serve the eggplant unagi with some Korean purple rice instead of white rice.
What is unagi don?
Unagi don, also known as unadon or unagi donburi, is a rice-bowl meal topped with grilled eel glazed with tare, a sweet and savory, soy-based sauce. It's a quick and easy meal to make and super tasty!
This vegan "unagi" don is made with eggplants to imitate a classic unagi don. The eggplant "unagi" is melt-in-your-mouth tender and glazed with a sweetened soy-based.
- Eggplant - We recommend using either Japanese or Chinese eggplants because they are milder in flavor, has less seeds, more tender, and looks more like unagi when they're cooked.
- Sake - A must-have pantry stable for Japanese cooking. You can just use cooking sake, no need to buy the expensive ones, unless you already have it on hand.
- Mirin - Another must-have pantry stable for Japanese cooking. You can use any type of mirin, whether it's true mirin or mirin type condiment (which is usually cheaper and taste pretty similar). We recommend Aji-mirin if you're looking for an affordable mirin.
- Soy sauce - Either regular or light sodium soy sauce will work. We used Kikkoman's light sodium soy sauce.
- Sugar - Any sugar will do. It's for sweetening the unagi/tare sauce.
- Green onion - We recommend adding some green onions to the unagi sauce while it's cooking to give the sauce more depth. It's also optional as a garnish.
- Toasted sesame seeds (optional for garnish)
- Cooked white rice (for rice bowl)
How to make vegan unagi don with eggplant
This eggplant vegan unagi don is really easy to make and you can have it ready in just 15 mintues!
Prepare the unagi sauce and eggplant:
1. Mix together the sake, soy sauce, sugar, and mirin in a small bowl. Set aside until needed.
2. Cut off the stem of the eggplant and peel the skin with a vegetable peeler. Cut the eggplant in half widthwise then slice both halves lengthwise. If you don't mind the texture of the eggplant skin, you can skip the peeling step.
Cook the eggplant:
3. In a 10 inch pan over medium high heat, add a couple tablespoons of oil. When the oil is hot, place the eggplants with the flat (seed) side down. Sear the eggplants for about 2 to 3 minutes or until they are golden brown. Flip the eggplants over and sear the other side as well.
🌟 Pro tip: Press down on the eggplants to help them sear more evenly. You can also add a little more oil to the pan if needed when you flip the eggplants. This is up to personal preference, but if you want some char flavor on your eggplants, you can sear them until slightly charred. You can also use a kitchen torch to apply the char as well.
4. Once the eggplants have been seared, stir up the prepared unagi sauce and pour it into the pan. Reduce the heat to keep the sauce at a simmer, around medium to medium low. Place a lid on the pan and let the eggplants cook for 5 minutes.
5. After 5 minutes, remove the lid and flip the eggplants flat side down. Add half of the sliced green onions into the sauce and let the eggplants simmer in the unagi sauce until the eggplants are tender and the sauce is reduced to a glaze consistency, about 2 to 3 minutes.
🌟Pro tip: When the unagi sauce starts having big bubbles, it's a sign that the sauce is almost reduced to glaze consistency. So keep an eye out and let it reduce for about another minute.
6. Remove the pan from the heat and gently place the eggplant unagi over a bed of rice, seed side up. Glaze it with a little more unagi sauce if needed, and garnish with green onion and sesame seeds. Enjoy!
🌟 Pro tip: To make the eggplant unagi seem even more like the real thing, cut the eggplant with a pair of kitchen shears before garnishing! Plus, it's easier to eat too.
- Peel the eggplant for melt-in-your-mouth texture. It's perfectly fine to keep the skin on if you don't mind the texture, plus it'll be more nutritious. However, to get that perfect melt-in-your-mouth texture, do peel the skin.
- Feel free to adjust the tenderness of the eggplants. You can reduce the simmering time with the lid on to cook the eggplants less. On the other hand, if your eggplants still seem not tender enough, simmer them for a couple minutes longer with the lid on.
- Add some green onion to the sauce during the final simmering. This adds that subtle bit of extra flavor the sauce. Normally, unagi has the eel to add more flavor to the sauce, but since this vegan unagi is made of eggplant, the flavor is quite mild.
For any leftover eggplant unagi, let the eggplants cool completely, then store them in an airtight container for up to 3 days. You can also make the sauce ahead of time, up to 1 week ahead.
Unagi sauce, also known as tare sauce, is sweet and savory. If you're not on a vegan diet, you can also add a dash of dashi powder to add some umami flavor.
Unagi sauce is usually made of equal parts of sake, mirin, sugar, and soy sauce. However, you can totally adjust the ratio to your own preference. For example, if you prefer it less sweet, use a bit less sugar.
Yes! If you don't mind the texture of the eggplant skin, you can leave the eggplant skin on and skip the peeling step. Do note that it will be slightly chewier and the eggplant unagi won't be melt-in-your-mouth.
We recommend using Japanese or Chinese eggplants, but if you cannot get either at your local grocery stores, you can use American eggplants. Just cook it a bit longer, until tender and score the inside of the eggplant to help it cook faster and absorb more flavor. You can also cut it small as well.
There's not really a true substitute for sake. You could use stock or water in place of sake for this vegan unagi don recipe, but do note that the flavor will be slightly different.
Although the flavor of the unagi/tare sauce will not be the same without mirin, you could substitute mirin by combining 3 part sake to 1 part sugar. If you are can't consume alcohol, you can use this alcohol-free mirin.
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Vegan Eggplant Ungai Don
- 1 Japanese eggplant or Chinese eggplant (washed)
- 2 tablespoons sake
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce regular or light sodium
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon mirin any type
- 1 stalk Green onion sliced (optional for sauce and garnish)
- 2 cups cooked white rice
- Toasted sesame seed (optional for garnish)
- Oil as needed for cooking
- Make the unagi sauce:In a small bowl, mix together sake, soy sauce, sugar, and mirin. Set aside until needed.
- Prepare the eggplant:Cut off the stem of the eggplant and peel the skin with a vegetable peeler. Cut the eggplant in half widthwise, then slice each half evenly lengthwise. This will imitate the look of eel filets.*If you don't mind the texture of the skin, you can skip the peeling step.*
- Cook the eggplant:In a 10 inch pan over medium high heat, add a couple tablespoons of oil. Once the oil is hot, place the eggplants flat side down and sear until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the eggplants and sear the other side for a minute or two until golden brown.
- Give the prepared unagi sauce a stir and pour it into the pan. Reduce the heat to medium/medium low to keep the sauce at a simmer. Place a lid on the pan and cook the eggplants for 5 minutes.
- After 5 minutes, remove the lid and flip the eggplants to their flat side. Add half of the sliced green onions to the sauce and continue simmering the eggplant for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until the eggplants are tender and the sauce is reduced to a thick glaze. Remove the pan from heat.
- Serve the eggplant unagi don:Serve two halves of the eggplant unagi over rice, per serving. Place the eggplants over the rice, seed side up (the flat side). Garnish the eggplant unagi with the remaining green onion and sesame seeds. Enjoy while hot!
- Japanese/Chinese eggplant - We highly recommend using either Japanese or Chinese eggplants for this vegan unagi recipe. Regular/American eggplants are usually firmer and also quite thick. They won't imitate "unagi" as well.
- Unagi sauce is usually a 1:1:1:1 ratio of sake, mirin, soy sauce, and sugar. We reduced the amount of mirin used, but feel free to adjust the ratio depending on your preference.
- If you don't mind the eggplant skin, feel free to skip the peeling step.
- The green onion added to the unagi sauce is totally optional. We thought it added a nice depth of flavor to the whole dish. So feel free to omit.