Here's another dish Chef Honma taught me at En Japanese Brasserie. Like the mushroom ohitashi, this obanzai-inspired dish relies on a strong umami kick from the soba tsuyu, which is basically a supercharged dashi. It's typically used for soba -- you need a richly-flavored dashi to complement the toothsome buckwheat noodles.
One thing to keep in mind about dashi: While imparts a deep savoriness to ingredients, dashi magnifies rather than masks -- so the natural taste of the eggplant is never overwhelmed. It also subtly infuses the dish with the smokiness from the katsuobushi, another layer of flavor and fragrance. Here's what you need:
- 2 Japanese eggplants, cut langiri style (see below)
- High smoke point cooking oil
- Soba tsuyu (see this article in the LA Times)
- Grated ginger
- Scallions, thinly sliced
First of all the langiri cut (spelling? - please comment if I messed this up!). Cut the eggplant on an angle, turn, cut on an angle, turn, cut on an angle and so on. You'll have chunks with lots of surface area exposed, plus this is a lovely-looking cut (aesthetics count, always). Once you cut the eggplant soak in cold water for 20 minutes to remove bitterness.
Now, heat the oil in a saucepan until it reaches 375-degrees or so, or until tiny air bubbles escape from wooden chopsticks you stick in the oil - the old-fashioned test. Boil some water and keep it handy, too. When the oil is ready, add the eggplant. Keep moving it in the oil with chopsticks, cooking for about 1 to 2 minutes. You want the eggplant to soften, cook through, but not burn. Remove the eggplant, place in a strainer and pour boiling water of it - to remove any excess oil.
Place the eggplant in a bowl filled with the soba tsuyu and let it steep in the fridge for at least an hour. The eggplant will act like a sponge, absorbing the dashi's flavor. To serve, arrange the eggplant nice and tall in a small bowl, spoon a little of the tsuyu over and around it so it sits in a pool of dashi, and garnish with a touch of grated ginger and some scallions. Serve cold, and enjoy.