茄子田楽 (Nasu Dengaku)

The other day I was walking home from the grocery store with our heavy-duty, reusable shopping bags stretched to the brim in each hand. I was huffing and puffing my way back up the hill and trying to distract myself from my aching fingers by going over my mental to-do list, which seems to grow longer every day. “Catch Up on Research” is always a big one, closely followed by “Do  Galactic Homework”, and then usually “Grade Pile of Lab Books”. “Squeeze in Practice” has begun cropping up more frequently since I’m painfully close to becoming fully certified with my volunteer organization (if I could just get in a few more hours…) and also “Get Lazy Butt to Gym”, for obvious reasons. Now that it’s midterm week for the undergrads I must also add “Review General Relativity” for the help desk I’m manning this term, plus “Solve Quiz Problems” for a student who needs some extra 1-on-1 help.

I had nearly succeeded in giving myself a panic attack when it began to snow…but it wasn’t the usual burst of flurries we’ve been getting shoved in our faces the last few weeks or so. It was almost as if the snowflakes were suspended around us, gently twirling and looping around, but appearing not to fall; as if they were simply part of the air we breathe: floating quietly up the block and bobbing down another. At this point, the Sun escaped its normal cloud cover and shone more brightly than I’d seen in weeks. The final effect was beautifully surreal as the sunlight made the tiny ice crystals glint and glimmer as they rose and danced around those of us bundled up along the sidewalk.

By the time I made it home, the wind had grown and the snow had returned to its usual cheek-stinking behavior. The Sun had vanished and my fingers were numb (Brad does always complain that I walk slow). Waiting in line for the remaining working elevators, I was happier than any graduate student has a right to be this time of year. It’s amazing what a little fresh air and sunshine can do. 🙂

(茄子田楽) Nasu Dengaku

(slightly adapted from Let’s Cook Japanese Food! by Amy Kaneko)

Ingredients:

5   T   white miso

2½   T   sugar

1   T   mirin

1   large egg yolk

¼   Cup   water

1   medium-size globe eggplant (~1 lb.)

2   T   sesame oil, separated

2   T   canola or neutral oil, separated

sesame seeds for garnish

Procedure:

1) First make the miso topping by whisking together the miso, sugar, mirin, egg yolk, and water in a small saucepan. Heat over Medium-low heat and whisk gently but constantly until the sugar has dissolved and the sauce is very smooth – about 4 minutes. Never allow the sauce to come to boil. Remove from heat and set aside.

2) Trim the ends off of the eggplant and slice into ½” rounds. Score each round with a shallow cross-hatching to help miso topping stick. Preheat broiler and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

3) In a large frying pan, heat ½ Tablespoon of each oil (for a combined amount of 1 Tablespoon oil added to pan) over Medium-high heat. When the oil blend is hot, add as many eggplant rounds as you can without crowding (I had to do 4 batches, but if you can fit more at a time go for it). Wait until the first side has lightly browned before flipping the rounds and lightly browning the other side – about 4 minutes per side. After each batch has finished, set rounds on paper towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil. You’ll want the rounds to be soft, but still hold their shape.

4) Once all the eggplant has cooked, transfer the pieces to the prepared baking sheet and spread an equal amount of miso topping over each. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and slide the pan under the broiler about 4″ away from the heat source. Broil until the miso topping is bubbly and has begun to brown – about 5 minutes. Remove from oven, plate, and serve immediately.

Beezer’s Notes:

Well, I told you about my new eggplant kick and my wish to experiment with more miso recipes, so really this combination shouldn’t be a surprise, haha. Traditionally, dengaku is a firm tofu skewered and grilled with this same kind of thick miso sauce. I was first served it at one of my Iaido sensei’s fantastic dinners (look on the grill). I’ve tasted very similar toppings on fish and other veggies as well – although never eggplant…until now. I really love the taste of miso, and so the thick, rich, salty-yet-sweet flavor of this dish was great for me. However, the rounds were very soft and almost gooey with the sauce, making them difficult to eat – even with rice. I think next time I’ll spring for the slightly more expensive mini-eggplants I’ve seen in the produce isle: small globes that look like slightly irregular, dark golfballs. I bet those would be great drenched in this topping and broiled to juicy perfection, and their natural bite-sized nature will make for easier eating.

Overall Enjoyment:   ♥   ♥

Advertisements

Easy Roasted Eggplant

Eggplant is one of the most under-appreciated veggies in my opinion. Sure, I used to only like it deep-fried and covered in mozzarella & marinara – and is it just me or do restaurants across America think Eggplant Parmesan is the only way to cook eggplant? – but over the years I’ve grown to really love the flavor and richness of this strange looking vegetable (or fruit, if you’re a botanist). These last few months especially I‘ve been surprised to find that I’m perfectly content to simply roast them up whole in my oven, slice ’em, and eat them with just some EVOO and a little salt…a bit boring, but also quick, cheap, and healthy: 3 winning combinations in my book.

The only problem I was having with my new budget-friendly meals was the oil content. I tried applying the EVOO after baking, before baking, to slices in a pan, and slices after steaming. No matter which method I tried, though, my eggplant always turned into an oil-soaked sponge. It wasn’t until I came across this incredibly simple recipe that I’ve been able to have soft, delicious eggplant that didn’t seem to think it was an olive. The addition of lemon and herbs was a great touch, and makes your kitchen smell absolutely delicious in the process.

Easy Roasted Eggplant

(slightly adapted from Ruth Lively’s recipe on http://www.finecooking.com)

Ingredients:

1   medium globe eggplant (~ 1 lb)

1   lemon

1   T   EVOO

handful fresh thyme springs, or herbs of your choice

4   pinches salt (about ½ teaspoon)

pepper as desired

Procedure:

1) Preheat oven to 400°F. Slice eggplant lengthwise and cut deep cross-hatched in both halves (but do not pierce skin). Push on the edges of the halves to open cuts and sprinkle salt into them (two pinches per half should be enough). Let eggplant sit, sliced-side up, for about 30 minutes to draw out excess moisture. While eggplant rests, prep your baking sheet by covering it with parchment paper and laying sprigs of thyme (or your chosen herb) down where both halves will go.

2) Once eggplant has rested, gently squeeze the salty water out of the halves and blot dry with a clean cloth or paper towel. Brush both halves generously with EVOO and place them cut-side down on top of the beds of herbs. Roast in the oven for 40 – 50 minutes or until eggplant appears wrinkly and slightly collapsed. When fully cooked the cut-side of the eggplant should be a dark caramel-color.

3) Allow eggplant to cool on baking sheet until cool enough to handle – about 10 minutes – before gently flipping. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice and extra herbs, salt, or pepper to taste. Serve whole with lemon wedges as the main dish or scoop the flesh out for use in other recipes (like that yummy baba ghanoush!)

Beezer’s Notes:

I really wish I had thought of this recipe on my own, haha. It’s so simple and not only does this recipe get rid of the oil-sponge problem but it lends even more flavor to the eggplant without overpowering it in any way. Forget heavy-breading and drowning sauces: a little citrus and herb goes a long way! Oh, and your wallet and waistline will thank you. 😉

Overall Enjoyment:   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

Eggplant Lasagna

I’m sorry it’s been a while since my last post. I have certainly been cooking enough and have a backlog of recipes waiting to share, but I’ve been distracted by case calls 122 miles away multiple times a week, a hunky Canadian visiting, and…(drum roll please)… getting accepted to grad school! I can barely believe that this Fall I’ll be living with my boyfriend – like normal couples do, ha! – in Halifax, Nova Scotia as I finally begin to study Astronomy.

When I was a senior in high school sifting through mountains of University pamphlets and trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life, I thought a career that allowed you to study something as beautiful and extreme as the stars would be perfect. I was told, however, that to be taken seriously as a astronomer one had to nab a degree in Physics first. Never being very good at Physics, this was pretty discouraging news to my 18 year-old self. Still, I decided to give it a try.

I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy. After getting past the boring basics, though, Physics becomes really interesting and – at times – absolutely crazy. Nuts. Looney. Anyone who’s read Brian Greene’s books probably has an idea of what I’m talking about, but for those who haven’t: try to imagine such things as quantum foam, understand something as eerie as entanglement, or just watch a “star in a jar“. Sonoluminescence still gives me goosebumps simply because it is so cool.

The old “truth is stranger than fiction” adage definitely applies to Physics, but the cool factor only just balanced out the equally crazy math (at least for me) and I found myself completely burned out when I graduated in 2006. I always intended to continue with my plan of studying Astronomy in graduate school, it’s just taken me a while. Now, almost eight years later, I’m going to finally be studying what I’ve wanted to all along – I can’t wait!!

Eggplant Lasagna

(adapted from Joy of Cooking: All About Vegetarian by Becker, et. al.)

Ingredients:

8 lasagna noodles

1 medium eggplant

6   oz. fresh mozzarella

6   T   unsalted butter

6   T   AP flour

3    C   milk

¼  C   tomato paste

1   t   salt, divided

¾   C   parmesan cheese, grated

* Note: this recipe deliberately makes extra bechamel sauce which you can store in the fridge for up to three days and use in other pasta dishes or over vegetables.

Procedure:

  1. Bring lightly salted water to a boil in a large 8-quart saucepan and add noodles. Cook until al dente, drain, and set aside.
  2. While pasta is cooking, slice eggplant into ½” thick slices. Steam the eggplant in batches over boiling water until very soft, but still intact – about 10 minutes. Spread cooked slices on a plate and sprinkle lightly with salt.
  3. For the bechamel: melt butter in a saucepan over Medium-low heat until it begins to foam. Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, for a few minutes to remove the taste of the raw flour. Do not allow the flour to darken.
  4. Remove bechamel base from heat and gradually whisk in milk. Continue to whisk until sauce is smooth and lump-free. Return sauce to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened – about 10 minutes. Lastly, add tomato paste and ½ t of the salt, whisk well, and set aside. Give the sauce a good stir every few minutes to keep a skin from forming.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375°F and prep a 12 x 9″ lasagna pan with butter or cooking spray. Begin stuffing the noodles by laying a noddle out on a clean work surface, adding a Tablespoon or so of the bechamel sauce, a slice of eggplant, and a slice of mozzeralla. Fold the top of the noddle over to cover the stuffing and add to pan. Repeat with the remaining noodles.
  6. When the pan is full with the stuffed noodles, pour ¼ Cup of additional bechamel sauce over the top of the bundles and sprinkle the grated parmesan cheese over the dish. Bake for 15 minutes and then increase the temperature to 400°F and cook for 5 minutes more or until a nice golden crust forms on top. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Beezer’s Notes:

This vegetarian lasagna is gooey, rich, and satisfying enough that even those of us who enjoy meat won’t miss it here. I was a bit disappointed in the lack of flavor depth, however. Even though I significantly reduced the amount of butter and salt from what the source recipe calls for, about 90% of what I tasted was a combo of cheese and butter – which sounds obvious, but I guess I was just hoping for the eggplant to shine through a bit more. In the future I’m going to try roasting the eggplant slices instead of steaming them and do as my friend recommended and add a layer of spinach or kale (or some other dark leafy green) to the stuffing. The recipe now is an excellent starting point for an amazing dish, but I guess now that I’ve grown to love more veg in my meals I missed having more of it here.

Overall Enjoyment: ♥   ♥   ♥



%d bloggers like this: