By Mari Nameshida / Special to The Japan NewsIt was surprising for me that many of my students in the United States told me that they don’t like eggplant, even though it is a popular vegetable in Japan. Common complaints are that the texture is too spongy or mushy, and that it sometimes tastes bitter.
But when they take my class, they find eggplants are often used in my recipes. And I found they are actually OK with the vegetable, or even like it most of the time. Popular eggplant dishes include grilled eggplant with a sweet miso-based sauce called den-gaku, sauteed eggplant with miso, and eggplant in dashi broth, today’s recipe.
Eggplant is very mild and has a somewhat bland flavor, so some think it’s tasteless, but it also means it can absorb beautiful flavors. It also goes well with oil, so most eggplant dishes in the world use methods such as deep-frying or cooking with a lot of olive oil.
This Japanese dish is just simmered with a few seasonings with dashi, and I think this is the best way to taste the natural flavor of the vegetable itself. Maybe you’ve never experienced how delicious it can be. It absorbs the flavorful dashi and becomes smooth and tender.
Cooking it is very tricky. When I buy this dish at stores or eat it at restaurants, I sometimes find it is too strongly seasoned or too much oil is used, making me wonder what I’m eating. I always think the dish should bring out the best of eggplant’s natural flavor.
I normally use Japanese eggplant for Japanese cooking, because the skin is very soft and you don’t taste any bitterness. But if you can only find Italian eggplant, then you should peel off the skin and cut the vegetable into bite-sized pieces. Otherwise it will be slightly bitter and tough.
If you overcook eggplant, it does become soggy or mushy. Be careful with the vegetable so that you will have a tender, silky and flavorful one. Grated ginger does great work, although you need only a tiny bit, so don’t forget it when you serve. Ginger and scallion give a kick to the dish.
This dish is great served warm, but it’s also refreshing when chilled and served as a midsummer snack. I can polish off a bowl of these eggplants by myself, so I suggest you make a big bunch. It keeps well for a few days in the fridge.
Mari’s recipe for eggplant in dashi broth
Ingredients (serves 4):
4 Japanese eggplants
400 milliliters dashi broth
3 tbsp sake
1½ tbsp sugar
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp grated ginger
4 tbsp chopped green scallion
1. Remove the tops from the eggplants and cut each in half lengthwise. Score in the skin (refer to photo) and soak in water for 10 minutes.
2. Combine the seasonings for the simmering liquid in a saucepan and heat until warm. Add the eggplants, skin-side down. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Flip the vegetables, cover and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until tender.
3. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
4. Arrange the eggplants on a serving plate along with some of the simmering liquid, and garnish with grated ginger and scallion.
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