Spicy Eggplant with Miso

One of the most confounding things about moving to a gluten free diet is how to adjust old favorites. They are never going to taste the same. That is just a given. The delightful thing is when they taste even better.

That is what happened to me with this dish. Ordinarily I use a pre-made sauce that I buy in a jar, brown bean or spicy black bean or spicy chili sauces, but all of these not only have wheat but usually msg (and who knows what else – the more I find out about the manufacturing process the more I think everybody should be cooking from scratch!).

Wheat-free soy sauce can be expensive, but with this recipe you don’t need any soy sauce at all. However, it is a good idea to get the best miso you can find. Miso is the main flavoring agent of this dish. The better quality miso has a far superior taste and they don’t have lots of additives that can hide gluten. Read the labels – it shouldn’t have anything but soy beans, water, rice and salt. Don’t replace the red miso with white – red miso has a rich almost smokey flavor and is heavily salty; white miso is delicate and sweet. It should come with a sort of inner cover made of something that looks like parchment paper – when you are done with the miso, smooth the top and replace this paper on top (or make one to fit). This will help reduce the oxidizing and maintain flavor.

You can replace Japanese eggplant with regular eggplant if you need to, but it isn’t as good. To remove the bitterness, you should definitely salt the pieces, let sit for 10 minutes, wash off and then dry. Because of the oil, you should definitely dry the eggplant before cooking.

Spicy Eggplant and Tofu with Miso

3 Japanese eggplants (about 1 lbs)
1 package soft tofu (other tofu is ok, but soft is best)
4 Tablespoons oil (peanut is delicious but vegetable oil is fine. Don’t use olive or other strongly flavored oils)
6 Tablespoons red miso
6 Tablespoons sugar
6 Tablespoons dashi (mushroom or kelp stock) or water (dashi is best)
1/2 – 1 teaspoon togarashi (red pepper flakes)
1/2 – 1 cup negi (regular green onion is ok)

Roll cut the Japanese eggplant (it should look similar to the pieces in the picture below. To see this technique, go to 54 seconds on this video). You don’t have to, but the traditional technique is to soak immediately in water to remove any harshness and prevent discoloration. Let stand 2-3 minutes and drain. Pat dry with a kitchen towel.

Gently remove the tofu from its package, place it where you can cut it, but then can leave it for awhile. Cut into pieces approximately 1 inch square. Do not move it. Use a smaller separate cutting board if you have one.

Slice the negi into about 1/4 inch rounds, or if using regular green onions about 1/2 inch lengths.

Mix the miso, sugar and stock or water in a bowl.

Heat oil til it is quite hot in a pan large enough for all the eggplant to not crowd. Add eggplant and immediately and quickly stir to coat all the pieces in oil. Reduce heat to medium. Cook about 4 minutes, til the start looking a bit brown (like the pic below).

Push the eggplant to the sides of the pan. Gently lift the tofu and place it in the middle of the pan. Let it cook for a few minutes with out moving it, then gently turn over the pieces. Stir the eggplant on the sides. Let cook a few minutes more without stirring.The tofu should be hot and slightly coloring.

Pour miso mixture over everything and gently push the tofu a few centimeters to each side to get the sauce to coat it. Stir the sauce and the eggplant. Cook about 5 minutes or until the sauce has thickened up a bit and everything is hot.

Add togarashi and negi (or green onions). Gently mix everything together. Let cook til onions are wilted.

Serve with hot rice.

Serves 4

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