Thursday, March 15, 2012

Eggplant with tomato-miso sauce

Last weekend Mark Bittman had a wonderful article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine on non-traditional uses for miso. He went so far as to call it the Parmesan cheese of the new century.  He is not far off.  Some of the most flavorful foods that we use, those richest in umami, or a meaty flavor, are based on broken down (or less euphemistically, spoiled) proteins. Cheeses, cured meat, dried or fermented fish, soy sauce, fermented bean sauces -- all are produced by ccontrolled spoilage that preserves food by fostering the growth of helpful microorganisms that keep out the dangerous ones.  In the process, they break down the proteins and set lots of amino acids free, contributing to the flavor level in the dish. Don't trust me on the science, but trust me on the taste.

I have been toying around with the combination of Asian and Western flavors recently, each of which takes a very different approach to food preservation.  (Think of the difference between cheese, fish sauce, and miso.)  I was making a potato and cheese gratin for a vegetarian Shabbat dinner, and wanted something to go with it that would be interesting and bring some acidity and depth of flavor to the meal, but which wouldn't be garlicky.  Inspired partly by Bittman, I came up with this. The sauce is extremely simple, and the tomato/miso/butter has both an umami hit and a surprising level of creaminess, given that it has no cream and not too much butter. It tastes almost as if it were made with both cream and anchovies, or at perhaps some Parmesan, though it uses none of the above. Try this and play around with it, using different herbs and different kinds of miso.

Eggplant with tomato-miso sauce

  • large, firm purple eggplant
  • olive oil or olive oil spray
  • 1 tablespoon sweet butter
  • 3 shallots, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons miso (I used sweet white miso -- experiment, and the results will be different but still delicious)
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme (or a large pinch dried)
  • 15 ounce can tomatoes (I used del Valle cherry tomatoes, you could try another variety; in season 1 pint of fresh halved cherry tomatoes would be preferred)
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • small handful chopped fresh parsley
  1. Quarter the eggplant lengthwise and cut each quarter into 1 inch chunks.
  2. Oil or spray a flat baking dish.  Either toss the eggplant pieces with a bit of oil, or place them on the dish skin side down and spray them with oil.
  3. Broil on high about 5 inches from the flame for about 10 minutes, or until brown but not blackened.  Turn off the broiler, turn oven to 425 degrees, and roast for 15 minutes or until tender.
  4. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet.  Add the shallots and saute on medium high  until soft but not brown, about 3 minutes.  Add the thyme and give a few stirs.
  5. Turn the heat down, add the miso, and stir to combine with the shallots and butter.
  6. Add the tomatoes and bring to the boil.  Squish the tomatoes if you don't like them whole.  Cook on high for about 10 minutes.
  7. Add eggplant and cook for another 10 minutes on very low heat to meld flavors.  Make sure the eggplant is tender.
  8. Makes 4 generous side dish servings.

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