December 31, 2011

Nasu Dengaku - Miso-Glazed Eggplant

I first had this at a little Japanese restaurant in my neighbourhood, one which is both one of the best in town in addition to being one of the closest restaurants to my house. Vancouver is awash in a sea of sushi joints, often of middling quality, so one that offers dishes that go beyond the California roll are a joy to see.

The restaurant version of this tends to be deep fried, but lightly done, but the home version, simply popped under the broiler, is just as delicious, with a sweet and salty glaze that either revs up your taste buds as an appetizer, or beautifully complements a main course. It's also great in a bento (see below), either at room temperature or re-heated. I went a little light on the sauce, as you can see, and would probably use a little bit more next time. You can also use dark purple, smallish, round eggplants for this, which do tend to keep their colour a bit better, if elegance of presentation is important to you. Really large eggplants are likely too tough for this type of dish, however.

Nasu Dengaku
Serves 4

2 medium-small asian eggplants (thin skinned if possible)
3 tablespoons miso (I like red miso, but any will do)
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon sake
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce

Wash and trim your eggplants, and halve lengthwise. Cut a large diamond pattern into the fleshy cut side with a sharp knife, not going down through the skin. Brush the cut side with sesame oil, and roast or broil, cut-side-down, for 10 to 20 minutes. You can also dry-roast the eggplant in a skillet on the stovetop, if you prefer.

Mix up the dengaku sauce of miso, sugar, mirin and sake, until thoroughly blended, and heat in a small saucepan. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon, until the sauce turns glossy, thinning with a couple of drops of water, if needed. Divide the sauce between the four pieces of eggplant, brushing it into the diamond cuts. Broil the eggplant very briefly to caramelize the edges of the sauce, slice into chopstick-friendly pieces, and serve. As you can see, I favour green onion as a garnish, because it looks very pretty, and the mild pungency of the onion is a nice contrast to the salty-sweet of the sauce.

The sauce also works as a lovely glaze for pan-seared tofu, or sauteed or broiled mushrooms.

Like the dinner plate above, this bento contains a layer of thinly sliced sesame beef with beech mushrooms on Japanese rice in the one tier, and nasu dengaku, black sesame carrot kinpira, and a mini cucumber in the other.

Happy New Year, everyone! May your year be filled with deliciousness.

December 30, 2011

Margarita Chicken

This is a great little recipe, which I've only slightly adapted from Cook This! Not That!, and really mostly in terms of adding a few more beans (the two to three tablespoons in the original recipe hardly seemed adequate for a serving), and a side dish of simple red rice.

Now, while the recipe shows you how to easily doctor up a can of black beans (drain, add cumin, heat, add lime juice), if you happen to have some left over Spicy Thick Black Beans, simply use two cups of those, instead - you won't be doing any damage for the extra onion, garlic and pepper in the mix.

Margarita Chicken
Adapted from "Cook This! Not That!"
by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding

Serves 4

Bean Bed
2 cups of black beans, drained
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
juice from one lime

1/2 tablespoon olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 4 oz. each)
1 cup salsa verde (warmed up, ideally)
1 cup grated Oaxaca cheese
Salt & Pepper as desired
cilantro, for garnish

If you are serving this dish with rice, get it started right away, and you should be able to easily do the rest in the time it takes the rice to cook (unless you're using instant rice, which I can't recommend). A tasty, simple version of red rice is to just add minced onion and a good sprinkle of ground annatto seed, cumin, and a pinch of salt to your regular steamed rice recipe.

Preheat your oven to 450 F, with the oven rack set to the middle. Heat the drained beans in a small saucepan, with the cumin, until thoroughly heated. Add the lime juice and stir through. Turn heat to low (or off), cover and hold until needed. Preheat your salsa in a small saucepan or in a cup in the microwave.

Salt and pepper your chicken lightly on both sides, and sear in a pre-heated skillet until deep golden brown on the first side - about 3 or 4 minutes - then flip over. As it sears on the second side, for another three minutes or so, gently spoon a little salsa verde over each chicken breast, spreading it with the spoon to just reach the edges of the chicken. Sprinkle with grated cheese, and then place uncovered in the oven for about five minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the cheese is bubbling.

To serve, spoon a quarter of the beans onto a luncheon-sized plate, and carefully place a chicken breast atop. Garnish with freshly chopped cilantro. Add the red rice to the side of the plate, and a couple of slices of avocado, and serve with lime wedges on the side for extra lime goodness. Leftovers work beautifully for lunch - I recommend slicing the chicken breast before stashing it away in the fridge, so it can reheat evenly (and more quickly!). I also deeply suspect that any leftovers, should you be so lucky, would make fantastic burritos. I intend to double the recipe next time, and find out.

The original recipe clocked in, according to the author, at 330 calories per serving. increasing the black beans to 1/2 a cup per serving, and adding a modest amount of red rice (3/4 cup of cooked rice) and even adding a quarter of avocado, raises the meal total to a mere (approximate) 525 calories for the whole meal (roughly 24% of those calories from fat) - absolutely still qualifying as a terrific, healthy dinner.

Quite a few of the other recipes from the book (and its companion publications) are available over at Men's Health.