Miso Marinated Eggplant
3 medium-sized Japanese eggplant
3 tbsp miso paste
1 1/2 tbsp seasoned rice wine vinegar
1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp finely grated peeled ginger
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp scallions, finely chopped
1 tbsp vegetable oil, plus additional for sauteing
1 tsp sesame oil
1-2 tbsp water
1. Wash eggplant; remove leaves, cut in half lengthwise, then slice into pieces about 3/4" wide. Place the eggplant in a large colander, sprinkle liberally with kosher salt, then spread eggplant so it's only one layer deep. Let drain for 30 minutes.
2. In a bowl or sealable container, combine miso, rice wine vinegar, sugar, ginger, garlic, herbs, oils and water. The thickness of the marinade will determine the amount of water used; you're looking for a medium-thick consistency, not too runny. Whisk or shake to combine.
3. Remove eggplant slices to a double layer of paper towels. Spread out into a single layer, cover with another layer of paper towels, and press to absorb all the moisture released. Place eggplant into a gallon-sized zip-top bag, pour marinade over, and seal, pressing out as much air as possible. Make sure the eggplant is completely covered in the marinade. Let sit for 30-45 minutes in the refrigerator.
4. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and place a sparing teaspoon of vegetable oil in the pan. While pan is heating up, remove eggplant from the refrigerator and strain off the excess marinade in a colander or fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl. When the oil is very hot, add eggplant; don’t crowd the pan (you may need to cook it in two batches). The eggplant will pop and sizzle at first so use care. Let it cook, unattended, for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Lower heat to medium, stirring or shaking the pan often, for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the eggplant is browned, thoroughly softened, and reduced in volume by up to a third. Remove from the heat and serve.
This is a very easy recipe, it just requires a little bit of prep work. Today's eggplant varieties aren't particularly bitter anymore, especially not the thin Japanese eggplant, but I still like to salt to remove excess moisture. This way, the eggplant won't completely collapse into mush when it hits the hot pan.
Also, the way I see it, removing some of the excess moisture before marinating opens up some room in the eggplant for the marinade to seep in. You'll notice that I don't use very much oil in the pan. Normally eggplant requires a liberal amount of oil, since it's so absorbent. But since there's oil in the marinade, it's already going into the hot pan coated in an oily mixture. Having a lot of oil already in the pan will just turn this dish incredibly greasy. The eggplant will caramelize somewhat, and will have a tendency to stick to the bottom, so frequent stirring is key.
Alternately, you could use sake in place of the rice wine vinegar; it'd add a really vibrant punch to the marinade. This would probably cause the amount of water needed to change. If you're feeling ambitious, you can also save the left-over marinade that's strained off and reduce it in a sauce pan until it reaches a glaze-like consistency, and spoon it over the eggplant just before serving. Since no raw meat products are being marinated, there's no danger of getting sick off of bacterial contamination. Also, instead of chopping the eggplant, try halving them, brushing them with olive oil, and grilling, brushing the glaze on in light layers every minute or so.
Pairs Well With
There's a Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles that makes the most amazing miso-marinated eggplant. This is my home version - not too much like the restaurants, I'll admit, but still pretty good in its own right.