Last summer I was briefly part of an organic farming course. During the orientation, the farm instructor asked everyone to introduce themselves and say their favorite vegetable. Almost everyone said something along the lines of carrots or broccoli, so when I said my favorite vegetable was eggplant, the farm instructor turned to me, shocked. Apparently I was the first student to ever give that answer. This man grew vegetables for a living and he still had a hard time believing anyone liked eggplant.
Most of the time, if you ask someone if they like eggplant, they scrunch up their noses and shake their heads. I think this is because eggplant is usually prepared poorly. If you don’t do it justice, it can be flavorless and soggy. However, if you prepare eggplant well (hint: as I’ve done here), it’s one of the most delicious things you can eat.
Eggplant is often associated with Italian food, but I prefer how it’s used in East Asian cuisines. That’s why I decided to use the Japanese flavors of miso and umeboshi plum vinegar in this recipe. Miso is a fermented soybean paste full of probiotic bacteria, typically used to make miso soup. It’s earthy, salty, and very umami, which makes it a great flavoring agent for meatless dishes. Umeboshi plum vinegar (or ume plum vinegar for short) is made from fermented ume fruit, which is like a cross between a plum and an apricot. The vinegar is delightfully sweet and bright, perfect for vegetables. Every dish I’ve ever made with it has gotten rave reviews!
Oil: This eggplant is shallow-fried. Eggplant can absorb a lot of liquid, so you’ll need to use a lot of oil. If you don’t want to use as much oil, you can roast the eggplant in a 400º F oven instead. I haven’t tried roasting it, but I estimate it would take 10 minutes on each side if you flip it halfway through.
Salt: Most eggplant recipes call for salting the eggplant before cooking to draw out the bitterness. I find that this practice never impacts the flavor as much as I want it to, so I find it unnecessary. Further, miso paste is so salty that adding additional salt would make this dish unpalatable.
Stove: My stove tends to run cool, so what is medium-high heat for me may be medium heat for you. Use your best judgement and turn the heat down if your eggplant cooks too quickly or starts to burn.
Blackened Eggplant with Miso and Ume Plum Vinegar
- 3 tbsp umeboshi plum vinegar may substitute balsamic or fig vinegar
- 3 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 tbsp honey
- 3 tbsp miso paste red or yellow
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp cayenne
- 2 medium eggplants
- High heat oil
- Wash the eggplants, cut the tops off, and slice crosswise into circles about ¼ inch thick.
- Use a fork to mix together the rest of the ingredients, except for the oil, in a small bowl. It should form a thin paste. Lay out the slices and use a pastry brush to coat the top of each with a thin layer of miso sauce.
- Heat a generous glug of oil in large pan over high heat. When it's hot enough that a drop of water evaporates upon contact, turn the heat to medium-high and add the eggplant with the coated side down. Brush the tops of the eggplant with more sauce while the bottoms cook.
- Cook until soft and slightly blackened underneath, about 5-6 minutes, checking the bottoms occasionally. Flip the eggplant and continue to cook until done on the other side, about 5 minutes more. Add more oil as needed so the eggplant doesn't dry out.
- Remove the eggplant to a plate lined with paper towels. Serve hot over rice or as a side dish, or let cool and add to salad.