The literal translation of the Japanese noun 南蛮 (namban) is southern barbarians,, an epithet often reserved for the early European visitors to Japan, or 南蛮人 (nambanjin), who first arrived at the southern-most islands of that archipelago during the late 16th century. These early Catholic missionaries and Portuguese and Spanish traders were clearly not well liked to earn such a name!
However, the noun 南蛮 on its own also means cayenne pepper. Today’s recipe is for grilled cayenne pepper eggplant, and you’re going to love it as much as my potluck-dinner-having board-gamer friends did two weekends ago. It’s adapted from the book おつまみ (otsumami, or “snacks,” or as I learned it, “obligatory free appetizers you get when you order an alcoholic drink at many Japanese restaurants”), a fantastic cookbook of 478 small dishes.
Recipe follows after the break. Photo coming shortly.
- 5-6 small Asian eggplants or french aubergines
- Alum (aluminum potassium sulfate); can substitute pickling lime or cream of tartar
- 120mL soy sauce
- 120mL white vinegar
- 30mL dashi, prepared from instant powder is OK
- 3 Tbsp. white granulated sugar
- 2 whole たかのつめ (takanotsume) or cayenne peppers, or powdered cayenne pepper to taste
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3-4 green onions, minced, use about 15cm from the bottom each
- Rub the eggplant with the alum and set aside for 10-15 minutes. This will help keep the eggplant crisp through the cooking process. Rinse thoroughly in water until the water is clear. This step may be skipped, but some of the texture will be lost.
- Cut the eggplant into halves (or 6 wedges, if using larger aubergines). Using a sharp knife, score the back of the eggplant in a grid of cuts, 5-10mm spacing, at a 45° angle to its long axis. Cut only through the skin, not the flesh.
- In a saucepan combine the soy sauce, vinegar, dashi and sugar over medium heat. Add the two peppers, cut in half so that the seeds are exposed. Bring just to the point of boiling, then remove from heat.
- Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet very hot over high heat. Sautee the eggplant, chopped garlic and green onion until the eggplant browns lightly around the edges. If you cut eggplant into wedges, keep the interior on the skillet surface, not the skin.
- Reducing the heat just a bit, pour the sauce over the eggplant and cover. Reduce the liquid volume by half. Serve immediately.