I found some beautiful (or, "byu-DEE-ful," as they like to say here in my homeland of Brooklyn) Japanese eggplants at the local market, so I started digging through my notes and cookbooks for ideas on how to prepare them. In Chef Yoshihiro Murata's phenomenal book, Kaiseki, on page 114, he describes an eggplant-and-simmered-herring dish. When I checked out the technique, I thought it would be interesting to pull out the eggplant component and prepare it on its own. I do this a lot, by the way, with cookbooks that describe fine, elaborate restaurant cuisine -- you often can extract culinary gold from the complex recipes to serve at home.
In this dish, eggplants are first roasted on direct fire, either on a barbecue grill or on a wire grill over a stovetop flame, like I did, and then simmered in dashi to infuse them with flavor. The result is a beautiful (byu-DEE-ful) smokey, roasted flavor and fragrance from the grilling plus delicate, mouthwatering umami from the dashi. A final accent of grated ginger adds an aromatic kick. Simple, easy to prepare, and fantastic.
Here are step-by-step photos of grilling and simmering, followed by the recipe:
Here now the recipe...
3 Japanese eggplants
1 1/4 cups dashi
1 1/2 tablespoons usukuchi soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
1/4 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
Cut 3 or 4 lengthwise slits in the eggplants' skin to make them easier to grill. Place a wire grill over a stovetop burner (or prepare an outdoor grill). Place the eggplants on the grill and roast over high heat. Turn the eggplants often as their skin chars. Cook until the flesh is soft; test by pressing down gently on the eggplants.
Transfer the eggplants to a cutting board. As they cool, carefully peel off the charred skin with your fingers. Make sure to peel off just the skin and not the flesh inside. Cut into bite size pieces and set aside.
Add the dashi, soy sauce and mirin to a medium saucepan, and mix well. Taste the liquid, and adjust with more soy sauce or mirin, if desired. (The proportions I give here will produce a broth with a nice balance between savory and sweet.) Carefully place the eggplant in a single layer in the saucepan. The eggplants should be covered by the liquid. Place an otoshibuta over the eggplants and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.
(An otoshibuta is a wooden lid that sits directly on top of the eggplants as they cook, which prevents the eggplants from breaking apart and helps the cooking liquid circulate. You can easily replicate this effect by fashioning aluminum foil to fit inside your saucepan, cutting 3 or 4 slits in it, and placing directly on top of the eggplants.)
Once the eggplants are ready, transfer to a serving bowl very carefully -- at this stage the eggplants are delicate and can break apart -- drizzle a teaspoon or so of the cooking liquid over them and accent with a dab of freshly grated ginger. Serve at room temperature.