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Exploring Vegetables: Ichiban Eggplant

Ichiban (sometimes called “Japanese-style”) eggplant remind me of small carnival balloons, the kind that clowns twist into animal shapes, though I’ve never seen one this shade of purple. They’re the perfect eating size this time of the year, and if you didn’t plant any in your garden, these long slender fruit are readily available at the Farmers’ Markets around town. Although they might look exotic, don’t be scared. This recipe is an easy introduction to putting the ichiban eggplant on your table.

Wash the fruit and cut off the stem. I take this opportunity to delight in their shape and color and the feel of their resilient flesh. If we’re grilling, we slice them in half lengthwise and put them on for a few minutes for each side, just long enough for the flesh to get tender. It’s all too easy to grill them ‘til they’re soft bordering on mushy which is a texture I don’t enjoy. For your first experience, I suggest slicing them widthwise into wheels about a half inch thick. The cooks on TV would suggest olive oil but honestly a squirt of nonstick cook spray works as well. Saute until tender in a nonstick pan. The color changes a little but the best indicator is the texture of the flesh.

While they’re cooking, whip up this sauce. It’s my favorite kind of recipe, that is, it’s proportional so it can be easily scaled up or down.

Special Miso Paste Sauce
– one part red Miso paste
– one part mirin
– one part sugar
Simmer on the stove for 20 minutes or microwave it for 4 minutes stirring periodically. If you have four eggplant, try using a 1/3 cup for each part.

Miso is another product of the miraculous soybean and mirin is a sweet rice wine used exclusively for cooking. Both miso and mirin are available at the People’s Food Co-op or any of the Asian grocery stores around town. But now that I think about it, they’re probably available wherever you do your grocery shopping, although you might have to ask.

This potent sauce is both sweet and tangy, and since it’s a favorite around our house, we apply it like a glaze to the cooked eggplant.

You might want to keep the sauce on the side, until you hear the verdict at your house. We serve these glazed eggplant over rice as a side dish for grilled shrimp or chicken. The sauce also works well with other cooked vegetables, like broccoli, carrots and green beans. It also stores well in the fridge.

There are plenty of other (lower-carb) ways to serve this remarkable vegetable so you might consider growing a few eggplant in your garden. The plant itself is quite handsome, with a relatively contained growth habit and charming flowers. The purple fruit contrasts the green of the leaves beautifully so you might sneak a couple in among your ornamentals. The only real pest it suffers are flea beetles but we’ve found a way to outwit them that we’ll share next spring.

Posted in • Cooking, • Growing.

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  1. Wine Glaze » Exploring Vegetables: Ichiban Eggplant | Our Twenty Minute Kitchen … linked to this post on August 10, 2010

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