Authors: nytimes Diners Journal
I’ve been expanding my repertoire of fermented foods lately. I’ve always eaten lots of yogurt, but if you opened my refrigerator today you would also find kimchi and miso paste. The miso paste usually gets hidden in the back, because up until recently I would buy a container for a recipe I was working on (often a soup) and then forget about it for months.
So this week I pulled out my miso and got to work on dishes other than soups. Mind you, I love miso soup; it’s one of my favorite things about eating in a Japanese restaurant. I used to make it a lot at home, too, especially in my early days of being a vegetarian when I was still obsessed with getting enough protein, because it is a good source. But I also love miso glazes on vegetables and on fish and I’ve used this healthy fermented food in salad dressings, dips and spreads.
The paste is made by fermenting grains and/or soybeans with salt and a fungus called kojikin. It is always salty and the light varieties – white (shiro), yellow, and some light brown varieties – are sweet as well. The mildest tasting misos are the white or shiro misos, which are made with rice, barley and a relatively small proportion of soybeans. The more soybeans that are used in miso, the darker and stronger it tastes. I worked with a light miso in this week’s recipes.
I often buy miso paste in my local Korean supermarket and have used it in all of this week’s recipes. The main difference I’ve found between the Korean and Japanese pastes is that there are more whole soybeans in the Korean paste, so I usually press it through a strainer before using it.
Miso-glazed eggplant (Nasu dengaku) is on many Japanese menus, and it’s a dish I always order. It’s incredibly easy to make at home. I roast the eggplant first, then brush it with the glaze and run it under the broiler. The trick is getting the timing right so the glaze caramelizes but doesn’t burn. That’s a guessing game in my old Wedgewood oven, because the broiler door has no window.
2 long Japanese eggplants or 4 small Italian eggplants (about 3/4 pound)
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon sesame oil, plus additional for the baking sheet
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon sake
2 tablespoons white or yellow miso
1 tablespoon sugar
1. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise and cut off the stem and calyx. Using the tip of a paring knife, cut an incision down the middle of each half, making sure not to cut through the skin, but cutting down to it. Salt the eggplant lightly and let sit for 10 minutes. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment and brush with sesame oil.
2. Blot the eggplants with paper towels and place, cut side down, on the baking sheets. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, until the skin is beginning to shrivel and the flesh is soft. Remove from the oven, carefully turn the eggplants over, and preheat the broiler.
3. To make the glaze, combine the mirin and sake in the smallest saucepan you have and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil 20 seconds, taking care not to boil off much of the liquid, then turn the heat to low and stir in the miso and the sugar. Whisk over medium-low heat without letting the mixture boil, until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sesame oil.
4. Brush the eggplants with the miso glaze, using up all of the glaze. Place under the broiler, about 2 inches from the heat, and broil for about 1 minute, until the glaze begins to bubble and looks shiny. Remove from the heat. Allow to cool if desired or serve hot. To serve, cut the eggplant halves on the diagonal into 1- to 1-1/2-inch slices.
Yield: Serves 4 as an appetizer or side dish
Advance preparation: You can prepare this through Step 3 several hours before you do the final glazing in Step 4.
Nutritional information per serving: 73 calories; 2 grams fat; 0 grams saturated fat; 1 gram polyunsaturated fat; 1 gram monounsaturated fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 12 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams dietary fiber; 322 milligrams sodium; 2 grams protein
Martha Rose Shulman is the author of “The Very Best of Recipes for Health.”