Monday, January 24, 2011

Japanese Country-Style Eggplant: Nasu no Inaka Ni

Stewed eggplant doesn't sound exciting to you? Think that eggplant is only for vegetarians? Or just plain have no idea what to do with eggplant other than Eggplant Parmesan? Well, this delightful and simple Japanese eggplant dish will change your mind—and your palate-about eggplant. No one I have ever served this to has ever said anything but, “Delicious” or “Amazing” or “How on earth did you make this? I love it!” Asian eggplants are more tender and delicately flavored than the standard variety—but you can use either kind with excellent results. Katsuo-bushi—dried bonito flakes—are a common condiment in Japanese cooking. They come in packages of five packets. Next time you are at an Asian grocers, pick up a package. You can use katsuo-bushi in miso soup, and, together with grated ginger root and soy sauce, as a lovely topping for cold tofu (this is way yummier than it sounds).

· 8 Japanese eggplants (or one large eggplant)
· 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
· 1/4 teaspoon chili pepper flakes, to taste
· 1 packet dried bonito flakes (katsuo-bushi, found in Asian grocery stores)
· 3 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
· 3 tablespoons mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine, or substitute vermouth with added sugar to taste)
· 1 cup water

1. Score Asian eggplants lengthwise every half inch. (If using regular eggplant, cut off ends and then cut remainder into 1" cubes, but do no peel.).
2. Put all ingredients in a sturdy pot and stir to coat.
3. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally so that eggplant cooks thoroughly (until it becomes tender).
4. Serve hot or cold.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Black-eyed Pea Croquettes with Tomato-Basil Salsa

Beans, beans, good for your heart.
Beans, beans, they make you start—
Your happy life begins today,
So eat your beans—for health, I say.

Here I go again, defending the lowly bean, and urging, cajoling, and even guilting my readers into eating their beans. Why? Because I am convinced that the wonderful and versatile and inexpensive and plentiful bean is one way to fix the diets of many Americans--if not the diets of the world. Beans, with their heaping doses of protein (soybeans, lentils, and garbanzos) and their generous quantities of fiber (all beans!), are an almost perfect food, rivaled only by garlic, cabbage, and yoghurt. See World's Healthiest Foods for the most complete and mind-blowing information about all kinds about beans (and other wonderful foods).

I keep harping on beans because so few Americans eat much in the way of beans anymore. The food that lacks glamor, that's cheap and, well, has explosive associations, has fallen from favor over the decades. But the facts remain, if you add beans to your diet, you will immediately improve your diet--and over time, your health.Not to mention that when times are tough, beans go a long way. So give beans a try. Make a once-a-week commitment to serving beans, and then increase as you are able.

Meanwhile, here IS a glamorous bean dish. I found this on the menu at more than one trendy eatery while on vacation in North Carolina recently. This is my version of the dish. Easy to make--just takes a little planning if you make it from dried beans. You can serve with any kind of relish or sauce you like. We have heirloom tomatoes ripe and ready as well as fresh basil, so that's what I used. Another fun fact is that these black-eyed pea croquettes are fabulous the next day, tucked in lunches--they travel well as long as the sauce is not applied until just before you eat them.

Black-eyed Pea Croquettes, a la

1 pound (2 cups) dried black-eyed peas
6 cups water to cook the black-eyed peas
4 cloves crushed garlic
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Ground black pepper to taste
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs--or other bread crumbs or flour)
1/2 cup cornmeal for dredging
Olive oil for pan frying

  1. Cook the rinsed beans in a covered pot for 1 and a half hours, or until cooked. Drain and let cool. Mash the beans lightly--you still want to see some whole beans, but want enough mashed to make the mixture easy to handle.

  2. Sautee the garlic in the olive oil. Stir into the beans, along with cumin, pepper, and salt to taste.

  3. Add in the eggs and panko, adding extra panko if needed to bring the mixture to a nice texture that will hold its shape (up to about 1 and a 1/2 cups total).

  4. Form patties in your hands that are about 1/2 inch thick. Roll in cornmeal, and put into the frying pan with enough olive oil to coat the pan. Allow to fry for about five to seven minutes per side--until cooked through and lightly browned. Serve hot or chilled--these are good both ways.

Tomato Basil Salsa
Chop garden fresh tomatoes, fresh basil leaves (or cilantro, parsley, oregano, or mint), and any peppers you would like to add. Squeeze in lime juice, and add salt and pepper to taste. Mix and serve as a relish for the croquettes.