Monday, September 12, 2011

The Inside-Outside Game: Cooking Eggplant Flesh and Skin Separately


Photo of eggplant by jen_maiser on Flickr
Photo of eggplant at the farmers market by Jen Maiser, from her Flickr collection, used with permission.

People often say that the San Francisco Bay Area doesn't really have seasons. Weather-wise, they have a point – we have wet and dry, nothing nearly as dramatic as New England, for example. But for those who obsess about local food, there are scores of seasons, each one marking the appearance and disappearance of certain foods at the farmer’s market. Right now, for example, we are in the midst of eggplant season. Farms like Riverdog, Lucero or Vang have great piles of eggplant – not just the dark purple globe, but varieties that are thin and long, some that are Haas avocado-sized, some that are as tiny as a lime, with colors that include pale green, white, light purple, and white speckled with lavender. When their name is unknown, it’s easy to fall back on a geographical description: Japanese, Philippine, Italian, Thai. For one of my new favorite eggplant recipes, I choose the Japanese type, a slender fruit with an inky purple that is almost approaching black.

Elizabeth Andoh’s latest book, Kansha: Celebrating Japan's Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions contains a pair of recipes that knocked me over the first time I tried it. The underpinning is the Japanese philosophy of ichi motsu, zen shoku, which means one food, used entirely. An example of this philosophy is on the cover of the book and in the introductory text, where Andoh explores the daikon:  the leafy tops can be cooked and tossed with rice; the root section can be divided into three parts, with each section being cooked a different way or made into a pickle;  the peels can be used in soup or in a stir-fry.

The recipe I adapted below is for eggplant – separating the flesh from the skin, cooking each element in a different way, then serving them side by side. The flesh is simmered in some lemon juice, stock and saké; the skin quickly stir-fried in fragrant sesame oil with soy sauce and saké.

The end of eggplant season is not far away, so if you like eggplant and Japanese cuisine, make haste to give this interesting approach a try.

Photo of eggplant duo




Recipe: Eggplant Duo
Adapted from Kansha, by Elizabeth Andoh


This recipe consists of four activities: preparing a pickled plum sauce, readying the eggplant by carefully separating the peel from the flesh, cooking the eggplant flesh, and cooking the eggplant skin.


Pickled Plum Sauce  
Ingredients: 
1 T. mashed pitted uméboshi or plum paste
1 t. white miso (preferably Saikyo)
1-2 t. mizu amé (see notes) or maple syrup
1 t. vegetarian stock (see notes) or cold water

Method:
Pit and mash the uméboshi. Mix with the other ingredients. Taste and adjust with more sweetener if needed (the saltiness or sourness of uméboshi can vary widely between brands). Cover and chill.


Eggplant Preparation
Ingredients:
3 or 4 thin eggplant, preferably Japanese variety, about 10 ounces

Method:
Wash the eggplant and cut off the stem end. With a sharp knife, peel each one from stem end to flower end, making strips of peel that are about 1/8 inch thick (and ideally 3/4 inch wide). Cut the peel strips into matchsticks that are about 1 to 1 1/2 inches long and set aside in a bowl.

Cut the flesh into 1/2-inch cubes and set aside.


The Inside 
Ingredients:
The eggplant flesh
1 T. lemon juice
The squeezed lemon shell
1 T. saké
1 T. vegetarian stock or cold water
1 piece kombu, left over from stock making (optional)

Method:
Combine the lemon juice, squeezed lemon shell, stock, and saké in a skillet or sauce pan that is wide enough to hold the eggplant pieces in a single layer. Add the eggplant and toss with the liquid, then arrange in a single layer. If you are using kombu, place it on top of the eggplant as a lid. If not, cover with an otoshi-buta, a lid with a diameter less than the pan, or a circle of parchment paper.

Turn the heat to medium-high. When the liquid starts to bubble, lower the heat to medium-low and cover the pan with a regular lid. Let the eggplant steam for a few minutes until tender. Remove the pan from the heat and let the eggplant cool with the lid in place. If not using immediately after cooling, refrigerate.


The Outside  
Ingredients: 
The eggplant skin
1 t. toasted sesame oil
1 t. sugar
1 T. saké
1 T. soy sauce
1/8 t. kona-zansho (see notes)

Method:
Heat a skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the sesame oil, swirl to coat the pan, and add the peels. Stir fry for about a minute. Distribute the sugar over the peels and stir. Add the saké, stir well, and continue to stir fry until the saké has evaporated. Add the soy sauce and mix well. Remove from the heat. Let the peels cool in the skillet. When cool, sprinkle half of the kona-zansho on top and mix. If not using immediately, refrigerate.

Serving
Prepare individual servings by placing a small mound of the cooked flesh on one side of a small plate or shallow bowl next to a small mound of the cooked skin. Place a small dollop of the plum sauce on the flesh.  Sprinkle the remaining 1/16 t. kona-zansho onto the peels.  Serve at room temperature or chilled.


Ingredient Notes
  • Mizu amé – a thick syrup made from barley (with English language labels often reading “barley malt”).
  • Vegetarian stock – an infusion of kombu seaweed and shiitake mushroom stems (or pieces of mushroom cap). A simple method of making a stock is described at the bottom of this post.
  • Kona-zansho – A powder made from ground berries of the Japanese prickly ash shrub (Zanthoxylum piperitum)


Photo of eggplant at the farmers market by Jen Maiser, from her Flickr collection, used with permission. Photo of eggplant duo by the author.

Eggplant recipes from the Mental Masala archive