It’s official. Summer is here. Maybe you think Summer solstice signifies the arrival of Summer, or perhaps it’s when you bite into your first ear of corn, or maybe it’s even the fourth of July? But no, it’s not summer until I’ve made nasu no suzu ni and eaten it outdoors in the late evening light with my toes digging into a warm patch of gravel. Nasu no suzu ni, or ginger stewed eggplant, made a near nightly appearance at our dinner table in Japan. Little Japanese eggplants were always the first vegetable to greet my eyes at the farm stall near my house in the summer time—too cute and perfectly unperfect to resist. Enjoying as much eggplant as possible during it’s peak summer flavor is almost your duty during summer in Japan.
Tonight we had ginger stewed eggplant mixed in with red rice and hot slices of Heidi Swanson’s recipe for vegetarian okonomiyaki topped with my favorite miso mayonnaise and chives from our garden. The whole meal came together in a matter of minutes, and the eggplant was especially quick and delicious.
A note on Japanese style stewed vegetables: In Japan I used my otoshi-buta for stewing eggplant and other vegetables. But I didn’t bring it back to the US and that’s really just fine. To mimic the effect of an otoshi-buta I use a lid on my pan that is smaller than the pan itself, so it sits low and close to the vegetables.
Recipe: Ginger Stewed Eggplant
two small or one medium sized japanese eggplant, cut in half lengthwise, then sliced into 1/4 inch thick half slices.
two teaspoons of grated ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce
a splash of mirn (or a teaspoon of sugar if mirin is not on hand)
a tiny splash of sake
In a small bowl, mix your ginger, soy sauce and mirin and then thin it with a generous splash of water. Heat a small saucepan with a teaspoon of sesame oil. Slice your eggplant and add them to the hot pan. Grill the eggplant until the edges start to curl and become slightly crisp. Splash the sake into the pan and mix the eggplant quickly in the liquid. Turn the heat down to low, add soy/ginger liquid, and put a well fitting lid over your pan (see note above on Japanese stewed vegetables). Allow the ginger to simmer for 5 to 10 minutes and don’t take the lid off until you’re ready to serve the eggplant (even if it means you turn off the heat and just let it sit).
This eggplant keeps really well in the refrigerator, and it even tastes great (or perhaps better) cold. Cold ginger stewed eggplant is great mixed with cold cooked soba noodles.