Sunday, July 27, 2008
Eggplant, as you know, is one of my favourite vegetables. I love the way it slumps into velvety softness when you cook it properly. In Vietnam there was a restaurant that made eggplant stir-fried with garlic and honey that was breathtaking in its simplicity. Each piece was infused with garlicky oil, and was meltingly silky. I have always been frustrated in attempts to recreate this texture in my own kitchen, ending up with tough chunks of eggplant that burned in the wok, despite repeated lowering of the temperature, additions of more oil, tears, and desperate entreaties. Roasting an eggplant in an oven for a long time will eventually yield the texture that I'm looking for, but I'm still without an oven.
So when the summer's first eggplants appeared on our local vegetable stand this week, I turned to my copy of "Washoku" for guidance. The author gives several eggplant recipes, taking seasonality to a new level by calling for eggplants from different parts of summer. I chose a recipe for eggplants cooked with ginger, hoping to recapture some of the Hanoi magic.
I wasn't disappointed, as the recipe yielded a pile of sweetly tender eggplants with the exact right balance of sweet heat from the ginger and briny salt from the dashi. I made them one night after work, and left them in the fridge overnight to be served with sold somen noodles for the following evening's dinner. It was a great way to beat the heat.
I cleaned and scored the skins on five small Japanese eggplants. I'm sure you could use the fatter, bigger eggplants, if they were cut down into sixths. Then, I heated a teaspoon of oil in a frypan. I seared them, skin side down, for about a minute; then flipped them, and added 1 tsp of sake, 1/3 cup of dashi (made from a powdered mix), 1 tsp of sugar, and the peels from an inch stub of peeled ginger. I then covered and cooked them for another three minutes, until the sauce had reduced by half. After picking out the ginger peels, I thinly diced my peeled ginger and added that. The recipe actually calls for grated ginger juice, but since I keep forgetting to pick up a ginger grater every time I'm at the dollar store, I just chopped it up finely. I also added a small slosh of soy sauce and mirin, just to adjust the taste. According to the recipe, it's important to let the eggplants cool in the pan; covered; to allow the flavours to mingle and concentrate. Like everything I make from this book, they turned out perfectly. They can be garnished with white poppy seeds for contrast, but since my ginger chunks were still visible, I thought they provided colour contrast enough.
They had exactly the right texture; soft and yielding to the touch, and I was thrilled to have reached this texture without ridiculous amounts of oil. I'd like to try a Mediterranean spin on this dish using garlic and oregano as seasonings and chicken stock as the braising liquid. The daily piles of eggplants at the mujin show no time of stopping soon, so I'll have lots of raw materials on which to experiment.