Most kids reserve some right to pickiness when it comes to food. I was certainly no exception, if my latent adult fruit phobia is any indication. But I was never picky in the traditional white foods supreme kind of way that so many parents talk about and battle against. I ate my vegetables like it was a competitive sport, the greener the better.
Still, there were a few vegetables that escaped me for textural reasons and one of those was eggplant. It wasn’t until I discovered the small ones at Japanese restaurants—baked until the flesh is silky soft, and slathered with a miso glaze—that I welcomed eggplant into my heart without exception.
When my family moved from the burbs to the big city my taste buds did a 180 away from the traditional clean French cooking my mother did, towards the big ethnic flavors that graced every other restaurant on the Upper West Side, now all within a 5-block radius. It wasn’t long after I arrived in my Laura Ashley sweater set that I had my first experience with sushi, and I fell hard and fast, ditching my corduroy skirts for ripped jeans in the process.
As part of this renaissance from the sheltered world of Chucky Cheese to the rollerblading lanes of Central Park, I went from craving greasy pizza after school (unless it was from John’s) to ordering salmon skin maki rolls and dipping them in carrot ginger dressing. During this time of culinary exploration and preppy catalog shopping rebellion, I also discovered miso eggplant.
It was one of the dishes that my new sophisticated New York friends, already staunch vegetarians by the age of 9, introduced me to at the local Japanese restaurant around the corner from school. And the taste was pure magic. Unlike the rubbery eggplant that I often eat ate in a sub-par ratatouille, this Japanese miso eggplant was so delicate it melted in my mouth. Together with the salty-sweet miso, I was hooked.
It took me nearly a decade to try experimenting with miso eggplant at home, but when I finally did, I was surprised and thrilled to discover how easy it is to make. There’s no fussing over salting the eggplant into submission. You simply cut them in half, stick them under the broiler until tender (just a few minutes) and then glaze them with a mixture of ginger, miso, sugar and vinegar. It’s the quickest and easiest way to make eggplant on a school night, and as I proved over years of after-school training, just as quick and easy to inhale.
All of this recent nostalgia for my own food revolution was inspired by Jennifer Tyler Lee’s new cookbook that challenges parents to introduce a new food into their kids’ diet every week. Eggplant is of course one of the vegetables featured in the challenge, and I was thrilled to see one of her tactics is to make a simple Japanese stir-fry with a lot of the same flavors from my miso dish.
If you’re dealing with picky eaters in your household, or are still holding onto your own dietary idiosyncrasies from childhood, pick up a copy of 52 New Foods and join the challenge along with Jamie Oliver and a bunch of other food revolutionaries. I may need to do my own fruit-only version. But for now, I’m just going to celebrate how far I’ve come in my ripped high-waisted skinny jeans with a rice bowl and a stack of eggplant.
Japanese Miso Eggplant
- ¼ cup mellow white miso paste
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons water
- ½- inch fresh ginger root peeled
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tablespoon raw honey
- 2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
- 6 Japanese eggplant or the smallest you can find, halved lengthwise
- 1 scallion for garnish, thinly sliced
- Preheat the broiler
- In a small food processor, combine the miso, vinegar, water, ginger, and garlic. Puree until smooth. Alternatively, you can mince the garlic and ginger by hand and whisk everything together in a small mixing bowl. Set aside.
- Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Drizzle the eggplant with the olive oil and using clean hands, rub the skin and flesh until lightly greased. Arrange the eggplant cut-side up.
- Cook under the broiler until the top of the eggplant is golden brown and the flesh is soft, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and brush the cut-sides of the eggplant generously with the miso glaze. Return to the oven until caramelized, 2 minutes. Brush the tops of the eggplant again with the miso paste and return to the broiler, rotating the pan for even cooking.
- Serve immediately garnished with the scallions.