Tue Feb 21, 2012
For a meatmaster, I've been thinking a whole lot about vegetables lately. No need to worry, there's zero chance I'm contemplating going vegetarian, but I've been thrown for a loop with the first category of my first competition being "vegetable." This has my mind running with questions galore. What's considered a vegetable? Do potatoes count? What about peppers, technically a fruit? What type of vegetable can please an array of judges? Does it have to appeal to their sweet tooth? While I'm working all of these out, I've also been trolling my archive of recipes to find inspiration and remind myself what's worked and what hasn't in my more limited skills a vegetable griller. Picking out some highlights, I remembered these Chinese eggplants finished with a sweet ginger-miso paste—not right for competition, but definitely mighty tasty.
Eggplant has not always been my friend on the grill—unless I've sliced it very thin, the mushy texture I'm often left with is off-putting to my taste buds. Chinese eggplant lessens this though, with its thin, elongated bodies that create more surface to become browned and delicious, and less flesh to turn to mush.
Another aspect of eggplant that can be a blessing and curse is its flavor. Done right, eggplant will be rather neutral, ready to take on flavors introduced to it, but it can also go to the other way, with the eggplant having such a bitter flavor that it can teeter on inedible. I don't think I've done an eggplant that doesn't add a ton of flavor, so even if it veers on the bitter side, there's enough added good to overcome the bad. This eggplant got a particularly tasty sauce that comprised of sugar, sake, mirin, vinegar, miso, and ginger—fitting Asian flavors for a fruit of Asian origin.
Of course, flavor is only part of the equation, I still needed to grill this eggplant well. Trying to overcome the mushiness that seems to happen when overcooked, I scored the entire flesh of the eggplant, preparing it to absorb heat quickly inside while the outside it browned over high heat.
This seemed to work quite well, as the eggplants became beautifully browned, but retained a soft-firmness when ready to come off the grill. A big plus to this method was the attractive pattern the crosshatched scoring created, also creating caverns for the sauce to settle into.
Off the grill, the eggplants were spread with the sweet ginger-miso paste, photographed, and eaten. While they were getting their glamour shots, some carryover cooking softened the eggplant more, starting to tip them into the more mushy category that I worked so hard to avoid. Surprisingly though, I really didn't mind it here. The creamy innards melded with the sauce, creating a seamless flavor combination that was sweet, slightly salty, and had a little bite from the ginger. Overall I was happy with this incarnation of eggplant, and while it's not really helping much with my current challenge of finding a vegetable dish for competition, it's always nice to look back at some of the more successful non-meat achievements.
Chinese Eggplant With Sweet Ginger-Miso Paste
Adapted from The Asian Grill by Corinne Trang.
- Prep Time:
- 10 Minutes
- Cook Time:
- 10 Minutes
- Total Time:
- 20 Minutes
- 6 servings as a side dish
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons sake
- 2 tablespoons mirin
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1/3 cup shiro miso
- 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
- 6 Chinese eggplants, halved lengthwise
- Toasted sesame seeds for garnish
- In a small bowl, whisk together sugar, sake, mirin, and rice vinegar until sugar is dissolved. Add shiro miso and ginger and whisk until well combined. Set aside.
- In another small bowl, combine vegetable and sesame oils. Score the flesh side of eggplants in a cross-cross pattern every 1/2 an inch or so. Brush each piece of eggplant all over with the oil mixture.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of coal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover gill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Grill eggplants, flesh side down, over high heat until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip and continue to grill until very tender, 3 to 5 minutes more.
- Place the eggplants, flesh side up, on a platter. Spread each half with about 1 tablespoon of the ginger-miso paste. Sprinkle lightly with toasted sesame seed and serve immediately.