Monday, August 31, 2009

Beautiful Eggplants

  This is what the roasted part of my lunch for the week looks like. On the left we have the green peppers called piman, which are bitter and still crunchy since I only cook them for 10 minutes, and on the right are the baby eggplants.
  Asian eggplants sold in the US all tend to be of one variety: about a foot long and a couple of inches in diameter. Here, however, there are countless variations, and almost none are anywhere near that big. The most common Japanese eggplant seems to be the knob-shaped one, about the length of my hand, but there are also perfectly round ones, ranging from the size of a softball down to about pool-ball size. These are fantastic, and seem to be used primarily, as the vehicle for the sweetened salty-miso dengaku preparation: the eggplants are sliced into thick wheels, fried until saturated with oil, painted with the sauce, and charcoal-grilled. Dengaku anything (it can also be made with tofu or the raw wheat gluten preparation known as namafu) is one of the things I order every time I see it on a menu, without exception.
  Back to my eggplants. These were on the small and bulbous side - the perspective is a bit foreshortened in the photo, but you can see that the one next to the knife is only about half as long as the blade. Some eggplants have spikes on their little leaf-caps, but these were tender and made no fuss about being decapitated. I roasted them tossed with olive oil and salt for 30 minutes at the highest setting on my little convection oven, which is 220 degrees Celsius, and the only temperature I seem to use for anything. One nice thing about Asian eggplants is that they seem to be bitter far less frequently than the giant Western kind. These were almost sweet. Thanks to the alchemy that happens between eggplants and oil, they turned out melty-in-the-mouth, though not melty-on-the-serving-spoon -- in other words, perfect.

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