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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Go meatless with eggplant

After the Chinese New Year feasting, it is time to embrace vegetables
The Straits Times - January 26, 2012
By: Sylvia Tan
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Go meatless with eggplant -- ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

From today, we go vegetarian, at least for a week. After the feasting of the weeks before, it is time to redress the imbalance.

So our meals will now be vegetarian or near-vegetarian with lots of salads, soups and stir-fries.

Lest you think that this means an abstemious period of restraint, let me assure you there are lots of vegetables or vegetarian products which taste as rich as meat.

 Chief among these is the eggplant, also known as brinjal or aubergine.

Indeed, I once ate a Vietnamese grilled eggplant and mistook it for steak.

You can choose among several varieties of this vegetable - or fruit, as a botanist would call it, because it has seeds within.

And it is a vegetable eaten around the world.

The Chinese like their eggplant topped with spicy mince, the Indians cook it in curry, the Italians bake theirs with tomato and cheese and the Japanese even eat some varieties raw.

And no wonder, as it is like a delicious sponge that soaks up all the flavours of the sauce, plus it is full of antioxidants that lower the risk of cancer and heart disease.

Eggplant is also high in fibre, which aids in lowering cholesterol, and is a source of vitamin K, which helps improve bone health, among other things.

If you suffer from arthritis, however, you should know that some people have associated eating vegetables in the nightshade (Solanaceae) family, to which the eggplant belongs together with the bell pepper, tomato and potato, with the worsening of their condition.

I say, just do not overdo it, for it is a delicious and nutritious vegetable that would be hard to exclude totally from any diet.

In any South-east Asian market, there would be many kinds of eggplants on sale - small round ones, long thin ones and fat bulbous ones; and in shades of white, green or purple.

For this recipe, I use the small purple Japanese eggplant.

Just for practical reasons: They are small, which means you can apportion one or two per person; and they are tender, which means less cooking time.

I also feel they are less bitter than other varieties, not that I mind bitterness in my food for it adds complexity to the taste.

On no account, however, should you remove the skin as that is where most of its goodness resides.

The difference in this eggplant recipe is that the vegetable is grilled and sits on a bed of thick miso sauce.

Grilling is a cooking method that uses less oil.

Miso is made of fermented soya beans, adding valuable protein and body to the dish.

It is the main component of this sauce which is enriched further by egg yolk and seasoned with rice wine, sugar and salt.

A dollop of yogurt adds a welcome tang.

It is delicious eaten as it is, perhaps as a starter, or with some rice or bread, if you hanker after carbohydrates, though I would suggest that perhaps this week of restraint should not only be meat-free but also carbohydrate-free. 

Recipe

Grilled eggplant with miso sauce and mint yogurt

(Serves six to eight)

INGREDIENTS

8 to 10 small Japanese eggplants, sliced lengthwise in half

Pepper, to taste

2 tbs olive oil

1 small onion, chopped finely

1 cup miso paste

2 to 3 tbs honey

2 egg yolks

½ cup mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine), available bottled in supermarkets

1 small tub plain low-fat yogurt

Mint leaves and pine nuts for garnish

METHOD

Heat a grill pan till it is hot.

In the meantime, sprinkle a little pepper on the cut sides of the eggplants. Brush with some olive oil.

When the pan is hot, place the eggplant halves with the cut sides facing down in the pan. Leave them there for a few minutes to sear.

When the eggplants soften, turn each piece over to cook the other side for a few more minutes, then switch off the stove.

Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in another pan. When the oil is hot, add the onion and allow it to soften, but not to change colour.

In a separate bowl, mix the miso paste and honey with the egg yolks.

Whisk in the rice wine and pour the mixture into the pan to cook over a low fire.

Add a little water, if needed, to make a thick sauce. After a few minutes, taste and adjust the seasoning, if desired.

Place a puddle of miso sauce on a plate and top it with two or three eggplant halves.

Offer yogurt on the side and garnish the eggplant halves with a flurry of mint leaves and some pine nuts.

Serve as a starter or as a main course with rice or bread.

 

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