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)
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
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.
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.
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: ♥ ♥