2 March 2013

Nasu Dengaku: Japanese Miso Glazed Eggplant (Aubergine)

On a cool summer's night wandering deep in an ancient cedar grove through a Japanese Buddhist cemetery we followed the faint light emanating from stone lanterns through the advancing mist. As we walked on from a place of deep calm and contemplation I turned to my husband and absentmindedly said, "Do you know... I really love eggplants". From that day forth in moments profound and solemn, in the middle of serious conversations about life or the future he turns to me with the greatest (feigned) sincerity and utters those words...

Yes, it was a little absurd to be pondering eggplant while walking through Koyasan, an extraordinary place of religion, history and beauty. In my defence we had just had dinner at the Shubuko temple lodging we were staying at and it was an extraordinary meal both simple and complex, thoughtful and thought provoking. Central to Koyasan cooking is the non-use of meat (including fish), garlic or onions, allowing you to really taste the ingredients, and the idea of balancing the food with the seasons so as to incorporate the flavours, presentation and colours of the season in the food being eaten for a holistic approach to food and your environs. Each dish is artfully prepared and arranged.

Starting with a simple fruit like eggplant, certain flavours are subtly paired to enhance one or more characteristics across different dishes teasing out aspects that are "essentially eggplant" yet you don't feel like you have ever tasted them before. It was this whole idea that led to my contemplation and professed love of the eggplant, although the particular words I chose didn’t even begin to explain where my mind was.
I finally found some beautiful little eggplants on Victoria Street, not the long Japanese ones I was after but egg sized and deep glossy purple (as well as some beautiful variegated Thai varieties I put in a green curry). If you can’t find Japanese eggplants you can use a larger eggplant and cut it up, or use the smaller ones. The glaze is thick with melt in the mouth creamy eggplant in the middle, serve the Nasu Dengaku with rice and baby spinach leaves (by itself it is very rich and salty).
  • 5 long Japanese eggplants, or 8 small ones
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 1 tablespoon sake
  • 2 tablespoons shiro miso (white miso paste)
  • 1 rounded tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon japanese soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • dry toasted sesame seeds
  1. if using long or small eggplants, cut in half lengthways, remove the green stalk tip and then lightly score in a crisscross fashion both the white flesh and the purple skin
  2. combine the olive and sesame oils and brush over the flesh of the eggplants, place flesh side down in a non-stick fry pan and cook over medium heat for approximately 6 minutes, then turn over and cook for another few minutes until the eggplant is tender and cooked all the way through
  3. remove from pan and set aside on a plate, add any leftover oil (if you used it all, do not add any more), then all other ingredients to the hot pan and cook stirring until they start to bubble together
  4. return the eggplants carefully to the bubbling pan flesh side down and cook for a few minutes, until the sauce reduces into a thick glaze (if it gets too thick add some more water and let it just bubble together)
  5. remove from pan and serve with rice, baby spinach leaves and sesame seeds 

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