The eggplant is a favourite vegetable in Japan where it is cooked in a variety of ways, including deep-fried for tempura, added to nimono (simmered dishes), and pickled for tsukemono (Japanese pickles). In nasu dengaku, they are simply grilled or shallow-fried and then glazed, creating a salty, sweet, sticky top, and creamy eggplant flesh underneath. Japanese eggplants (also known as finger eggplants) are smaller than Western varieties with a thinner skin and tighter flesh. Their velvety texture and readiness to soak up other flavours makes them wonderfully suited to this cooking method.
6 finger eggplants, halved lengthwise
vegetable oil, to shallow-fry
white sesame seeds, dashi flakes (katsuobushi) (see Note) and finely chopped spring onions, to serve
100g white (shiro) miso paste (see Note)
55 g (¼ cup) caster sugar
80 ml (⅓ cup) cooking sake (see Note)
80 ml (⅓ cup) mirin
2 tsp dried dashi granules (see Note) dissolved in 125ml hot water
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
To make miso glaze, whisk together all the ingredients in a jug and set 60 ml aside for cooking. Place the remainder in a saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring, for 12 minutes or until thick and reduced by one-third. Cover and set aside.
Run a knife around the flesh of the eggplant halves, about 5mm in from the skin, making a shallow slit. Score flesh diagonally. Fill a large frying pan with 1cm oil and place over medium heat. Cook the eggplants, skin-side down, for 2 minutes each side or until softened and flesh starts to colour. Transfer to a plate. Discard oil.
Return the eggplants to the pan, flesh-side down, over medium heat and pour over 60ml reserved miso glaze. Cook, shaking pan occasionally, for 3 minutes or until eggplants are golden and glazed. Spoon reduced glaze over eggplants and scatter with sesame seeds, dashi flakes and spring onions, to serve.
Dashi flakes, dried dashi granules and white miso paste are from Asian food shops. Dashi granules and white miso paste are also from selected supermarkets.
Drink Go-Shu Blue Junmai-Ginjo Sake, Blue Mountains, NSW (300ml, $14)
Photography Chris Chen