2006 was the year of Soup Au Pistou.
After I discovered the tomato-based, vegetable soup at a local cafe, I would stop in at least once a week to pick up a bowl for take out. I loved almost everything about it — the heady chunks of zucchini, green beans and onions; the oversized pieces of penne pasta; the glossy puddle of pesto that floated on the surface like a lilypad.
The only thing I didn’t like about the classic French soup was that it contained eggplant.
Often, a lot of it.
It was always a bit of an anxious moment when I’d start to peel the lid off the cauldron-sized container.
“Please don’t let there be too much… please don’t let there be too much…” I’d plead, as though it was possible to change the contents just by willing it so.
I hated that eggplant. It was bitter, stringy and the skin was tough and unappealing. I’d eat around it until all that was left in the bowl was a heap of that most undesired member of the nightshade family, which also includes potatoes and tomatoes.
It was a shame that I felt so strongly opposed to it. Not only is eggplant low in calories and high in dietary fiber, but the skin contains a powerful antioxidant called nasunin, one of a type of flavonoid called anthocyanins that helps block the formation of free radicals.
My cells wouldn’t have known what hit them.
But it wasn’t until recently that I came around to the oft-neglected oversized vegetable that is technically a fruit courtesy of all those darn seeds it’s sporting. (Confusing little bastard.)
What changed my mind about eggplant was having it roasted — not in a heap of oil, but laid over a delicate smear — just enough to keep it from sticking to a baking sheet. The roasting process softens the eggplant’s curves, tenderizing the skin and imbuing a subtle sweetness to the melting, brie-like interior. Cooked this way, it tastes nothing like the acrid hunks that I used to let sink to the bottom of that soup au pistou — especially when it’s finished with miso.
Coating each slice with a healthy spread of white miso, mirin, sake, and a touch of brown sugar breathes new life into the vegetable. It becomes a delicacy — the starring player in a main dish rather than the unsightly extra that’s pushed to the side of the plate or fed to the dog.
I like to serve it over purple barley, which has even more fiber and protein than the more common pearled variety. The nutty, heart-healthy whole grain is the perfect textural counterpoint to the oozing slices of eggplant. It’s the hearty, earthy yin to the eggplant’s tender, sweet yang. All that’s needed is a smattering of raw green onions for a bit of bite.
In this iteration, eggplant finally gets the respect it deserves.
2011 might just be the year of the caramelized miso eggplant.
Caramelized Miso Eggplant with Purple Barley
Inspired by recipe in Skinny Bitch Ultimate Everyday Cookbook by Kim Barnouin
½ cup purple barley
1 medium Italian eggplant, sliced into ¾-inch disks
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 tablespoons white miso
1 ½ tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon sake
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 green onion, finely sliced on the diagonal
Rinse purple barley. Bring 1 ½ cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan, add the barley, return to a boil, then cover and simmer until all the water is absorbed and the barley is tender, but still toothsome, approximately an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and a half. (Soaking the barley over night will reduce the cooking time.)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a baking sheet in the oven while it preheats.
Swirl 1 teaspoon of olive oil across the surface of the hot baking sheet, then arrange the slices of eggplant in a single layer. Roast eggplant for 15-20 minutes, turning once. Eggplant is done when it can be easily pierced with a fork and the skin begins to wrinkle.
While eggplant is roasting, combine the miso, mirin, sake, and brown sugar in a small saucepan. Whisk together over low heat, then bring to a slow boil. Once it reached a boil, immediately turn off the heat.
Remove eggplant from the oven, and increase temperature to 450 degrees. Spread miso paste over the top of each eggplant slice and then place back in the oven for 5 minutes or until the tops are caramelized. (May also do this step in the broiler, but reduce the cooking time and watch the eggplant closely so it doesn’t burn.)
Serve the eggplant slices over purple barley, garnishing with green onions.
Health Benefits of Eggplant
- The skin contains a powerful antioxidant called nasunin, one of a type of flavonoid called anthocyanins that helps block the formation of free radicals.
- Eggplants are a good source of dietary fiber, which can help improve cardiovascular and digestive health.
- With only 35 calories for a 100 gram serving, eggplant is low in calories and a good choice for dieters.