Brinjal, Aubergine, Melongene, Melanzana...a vegetable by any other name would taste the same – smoky, earthy, a hint of bitter mixed with sweet. Eggplant, as we Americans call it, has a global following, with its roots in the Indian subcontinent. It shares a history with others in the nightshade family – tomatoes and potatoes. This versatile vegetable appears in cuisines worldwide, in many guises.
Growing up, I’d never heard of eggplant, though perhaps there may have been some in the produce section of the Food Giant where my mother shopped, but that is doubtful. The name alone wouldn’t have sold this purple orb to the suburban folk of Whittier, CA in the mid-1960’s.
Fast forward to the summer of 1976: I was an exchange student in France. I spent a few weeks with my French family in their suburban Paris apartment before going to the family vacation home in Vendée, on the mid-Atlantic coast. A multitude of family members convened there every July and August. There could be 25 or more of us on a Sunday afternoon, when we’d gathered for a dinner that included grilled fish, oysters, mussels steamed in white wine and garlic, and pâté with crusty baguette. And among them was a new taste sensation for me – Ratatouille!
Ratatouille is a stew of sweet pepper, onion, zucchini and eggplant. I put the emphasis on eggplant in my ratatouille because I love not only the flavor it imparts but the gelatinous texture it adds to this divine mélange. I think fondly of my French family whenever I prepare Ratatouille. It is a late summertime staple in my kitchen when all the ingredients are at their peak. Its flavor only enhances after a day or two, so a large batch can provide plentiful vegetable course options. Add to a quiche, or an omelet, eat right out of a bowl at room temperature, Ratatouille may best be described as “vegetable candy”. And now is the time to make it!
Due to it inclusion in so many international cuisines, eggplant is prepared on just about every continent, and acts as the perfect vessel for local spices and seasonings. Thanks to Bon Apetit magazine for this flavorful Asian riff using Japanese eggplant.
Ginger-Miso Glazed Eggplant
- 6 Japanese eggplants (1 1/2 lb. total), cut on a diagonal into 1-inch-thick slices
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed or vegetable oil
- 1/3cup white miso (fermented soybean paste)*
- 4 teaspoonsfinely grated peeled ginger
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
- 1/4teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3teaspoons sesame seeds, divided
- 3tablespoons thinly sliced scallions, divided
* Also known as shiro miso, white miso can be found in the refrigerated Asian foods section of better supermarkets and at natural foods stores and Japanese markets.
- Preheat oven to 425°. Brush both sides of eggplant slices with oil and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Roast eggplant, flipping once, until very tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven. Arrange a rack in upper third of oven and heat to broil.
- Meanwhile, whisk white miso and next 5 ingredients with 1 Tbsp. water in a small bowl. Stir in 1 1/2 tsp. sesame seeds and 2 Tbsp. scallions. Smear top of eggplant slices with miso sauce. Broil until golden and charred in places, 4–5 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 tsp. sesame seeds and 1 Tbsp. scallions.
Have fun exploring the world via eggplant, or aubergine, or brinjal. Whatever you call it, how ever you prepare it - it's delicious!