Today, even in Czech stores, eggplant is available all year round, while at the beginning of the nineties, very few people knew what eggplant was and what dishes could be made from it. My grandma knew, my mom didn’t. We may not realize it, but gastronomy in the Czech Republic has come a long way in the last 30 years. Eggplant proves it too. And since August has started, it is good to know, that August is the right month for eggplant, I’ve been cooking a lot from it, and I’ve also advised my chefs at Miyabi to focus on eggplant. Do you also cook eggplant meals? Do you like eggplant?
Eggplant is very popular in Japan and is grown in many varieties. Little known in our country is probably a small round eggplant, which in Japan is called kamo nasu. It translates as duck eggplant. Kamo. Cude isn’t it! And besides – it’s a delicacy. Another unusual type of eggplant I call myself a snake eggplant because it is very elongated. It almost looks like a different vegetable because it’s color is just a little purplish. It is used a lot in Chinese cuisine and is very good. As far as I know, the Japanese prefer dark eggplant, the skin of which is almost black, and they prefer smaller eggplants to some big ones. It is important that the eggplant is fresh and just ripe. Eggplant of a lower quality is suitable for use, for example, in yasaiitame, which is a vegetable mixture in which you also use garlic and ginger. I’ll never forget how much I enjoyed this simple dish while in Ooshima Island in the Izushima Archipelago at a stand right next to the beach. It was hot day. Very hot. Anyone who was in Japan in August knows well. Yasai means vegetables and itame is a type of preparation where you mix everything in a little oil in a pan – you just fry it. In yasaiitama, I would probably start with the eggplant and gradually add other vegetables, such as onions, carrots and cabbage. This is so that the aubergine can be preserve well and stand up in the mixer by itself and for itself. I like it when yasaiitame is dominated by eggplant.
If you want to enjoy only eggplant, then I recommend cutting the eggplant into slices and frying it in such a way that you do not skimp on the oil adding it gradually so that the eggplant does not dry out. I often made a grid in the slices with my knife so that the oil was absorbed quickly and the eggplant softened quickly. Then gradually transfer the golden-brown eggplant to a bowl, grate fresh ginger over it and add a little soy sauce. As you layer the fried eggplant on top of each other, always grate some ginger again and drop in soy sauce. You can serve the food hot or cold. If you only have a little eggplant for one pan, make irregular cuts instead of slices and fry them under the lid, and at the end add grated ginger for a moment and let it lightly combine with the eggplant. I always add drop of soy sauce too. Soy sauce applies to almost every Japanese dish. This eggplant form can serve as a small vegetable side dish for meat.
On very hot days, sometimes people have no appetite for anything with oil, so then I recommend making boiled eggplant dish. Nasu nibitashi. You already know nasu, it’s an eggplant. Then you simply simmer the pieces of nasu. Along with pieces of ginger. Of course, when it’s Japanese food, everything is cooked in dashi, i.e. kombu seaweed broth and katsuobushi katsuo tuna shavings. A strong broth with a little soy sauce will give you a wonderful umami taste, and you can emphasize this by adding the shavings to your meal. I eat even the pieces of boiled ginger with relish, they are certainly healthy. This dish is best served chilled, but can also be served at room temperature or warm. As you like it!
As I write, I remember my experience in Hokkaido in the summer, when we ordered eggplant in a harbor bar to have something to go with a glass of beer. The cook in front of us roasted eggplant on hot coals; for a while in aluminum foil and then without. When the eggplant was soft, he just sliced it and served it. We only had soy sauce for seasoning, if we had to add anything at all. I have never eaten such good eggplant. It wasn’t big. That’s probably why it was so good. But the source must have been special. Of course, we also ate the skin, because Japanese eggplants have a soft skin. The Japanese never peel the eggplant. We ordered another one and all the time talked about eggplants. About the essence of eggplant! In Japanese etiquette, it’s right thing to do. Yes, because we were eating eggplant, eggplant was the center of our world at that moment.
A very popular Japanese dish is eggplant baked with miso. Miso can be flavored with, for example, yuzu citrus or koshou pepper or both, and it can be light color or very dark miso. Each piece is a different experience and they all are great. You can make the dish by cutting the eggplant into crosswise slices about one to two centimeters thick, first throwing them in the deep fryer for a moment or braising them in a pan until soft, and then putting them under the grill, of course, with the miso mixture on top and grilling from above. You serve it hot. This dish is called nasu dengaku and is typical of shoujin ryori, that is monastic meatless food. Also for dengaku, you must have really good quality eggplants. Such that don’t smell of any chemical undertaste and have firm flesh. To be sure, I would choose smaller, slightly elongated eggplants so that each slice is of a similar size. It’s a great dish for a summer barbecue, only be careful that at the end you need grilling from above. Sure you will manage somehow!
Perhaps you are already cooking various of your favorite dishes from eggplant because you want to supply your body with potassium and phosphorus. Eggplant is rich in these elements. How about slices coated in breadcrumbs? Simple and very good. Maybe you make a mixture using eggplant, peppers, onions and garlic and bake it all in the oven with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or you love a Turkish specialty where you bake eggplant and then mix its inside with garlic and yogurt. These are three of my favorite non-Japanese eggplant dishes, but as you know, there are countless eggplant dishes in the world. Especially in the Mediterranean, from where many of you have just returned from your holliday. I highly recommend trying the Japanese dishes as well. They are very simple and you don’t have to fly all the way to Japan.
Celebrate Eggplant! Right now is its best time. Eggplant is the vegetable of the summer! And when you eat eggplant again, concentrate on it in a Zen way and … become an eggplant for a while!