Friday, 9 July 2010

Shiomomi nasu: Salt-massaged eggplants with Japanese aromotics

I have been addicted to nasu (Japanese eggplants) this last while. They are everywhere at the moment, and the cooking magazines (which I really have to stop tempting myself by looking at) have 101 different ways to use them. The "Mighty Nasu" indeed (to paraphrase one of my foodie heroes Ottolenghi).

Yes, the eggplant/aubergine/patlican/baademjaan/badinjaan/baingan/ brinjal is beloved to many cuisines, but have you ever had it raw?? Most of the world makes a fuss about removing the bitterness from eggplants before cooking them, but here in Japan, it couldn't be easier: Just squish around in a bag with salt! The dark, bitter juices come right out, and you don't even need to cook them. How good is that?

This quick side dish recipe is from the June 17, 2010 edition of the Japanese food fortnightly Orange Page (don't ask; I'm as mystified by the name as anyone...). I thought it not bad, for my first attempt at salt-massaged eggplants, but with the Japanese big three aromatics shiso (perilla leaves), myoga (myoga ginger) and raw fresh ginger, it may be a bit "medicinal" for some tastes.

The trick to this dish is to make sure that all the eggplant slices get massaged well, and to slice the aromatics very finely.

I haven't tried this with the larger eggplants that you tend to find outside Japan, which are called bei-nasu (American eggplant) in Japan. For now, I suggest you seek out small, round Japanese nasu, which weigh about 80-100 g each.

Salt-massaged eggplants with Japanese aromatics

Serves 4 as a small side dish with other Japanese dishes

2 nasu Japanese eggplants (about 160 g total), sliced into 2 mm thick rounds
2/3 tsp salt
3 shiso (perilla) leaves, rolled and sliced very thinly
1 myoga (myoga ginger) bud, halved lengthwise and sliced thinly
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped into thin shreds
splash of Japanese soy sauce (to taste)

1 Place the eggplant slices in a small polythene bag and add the salt. Press out all the air and hold the opening of the bag tightly closed with a thumb. With both hands, gently squeeze the eggplant slices until they loose their juices, most of their bulk and become pliant. Make sure not to miss any of the slices. Tip into a colander and rinse with water. With your hands, squeeze out as much of the water as possible.

2 In a small bowl, toss the shiso leaves and myoga. Add the salt-massaged eggplant, sliced ginger and a splash of Japanese soy sauce. Toss again and serve in tiny bowls as an accompaniment to other Japanese dishes.


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