Jeff & Linda's Kitchen of Diversity
We’ll finish our bentō with one final cooking technique: grilling. Grilled foods are very popular in Japan, and include vegetables as well as meats. We here are cooking eggplant in the dengaku fashion, whereby the food is coated in a simmered miso sauce and broiled on wooden skewers (much like shish kebabs). The kanji characters for dengaku (田楽) represent “rice paddy” and “music,” in apparent reference to a folk play conducted in rice fields in which one of the actors preformed while standing on a single stilt. The pieces of food impaled on a single bamboo skewer reminded people of this performance, hence giving rise to the name of this delicious food.
Grilled Eggplant Skewers with Peanut Nerimiso (ピーナツねりみそ田楽ナスor pīnatsu nerimiso to nasu dengaku)
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
½ cup white miso
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 Japanese Leeks, minced
2 tablespoons sake
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1½ pounds Japanese eggplant
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 Japanese Leeks, cut into 1” slices
Make nerimiso by combining peanut butter, miso, brown sugar, minced leeks, sake and soy sauce in a small sauce pan. Heat to boiling and simmer 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and let cool.
Soak 12-18 bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes. Cut eggplant into 1” thick rounds, and then cut each round in half. Alternately run eggplant and leek slices onto the bamboo skewers until each is filled. Brush the eggplant and leek with sesame oil.
Steam the filled skewers for 10 minutes or until the eggplant is barely tender. Remove and cool.
Liberally baste the eggplant with the nerimiso sauce. Cook outdoors on a grill or indoors under the broiler of your oven until sauce begins to brown. Turn and repeat on all sides. Remove from skewers to serve.
Use a long, thin Asian eggplant like Japanese Pickling, Ma-Zu Purple, or Ping Tung which have few seeds and are easily cut into the correct shape. Use the Ishikura Japanese Leek as it has a large shaft and is perfect for skewering. You can also make your own miso, and we’ll tell you next month how to do this using home-grown soybeans. But, you'll need to wait up to three years for the miso to cure, so in the meantime you may need to simply buy some from a local Japanese market. We found sweet white miso to work well for this dish.