In the kitchen, braising is my favorite technique in the kitchen. What’s not to like? No need for a fancy nonstick skillet, in fact, an inexpensive clay pot for under $ 5 at your local Chinese grocer will do. You don’t even need to add any oil – just place all of your ingredients in a saucepan and simmer over low heat until all the ingredients are tender, sumptuous and luxurious to the bite. Yes, braising is a thing of beauty.
But if you thought braising was only for tough cuts of meat like pork shoulder, or a technique used only when trying to stretch your dollar more, think again. Braising is also a great technique for vegetables, and eggplant is one of the few vegetables that shines when braised right at home.
I know what you are thinking – how can you braise a vegetable? Doesn’t an eggplant lose all of its integrity, texture and structure? Doesn’t that break all the cardinal rules of cooking vegetables, where a simple jet of hot oil brings a vegetable to life in a matter of minutes?
Look around the world and my point is made: eggplants rightly deserve their place in a pot. I invite you to remember the last time you had a really good eggplant dip.
Baba ghanouj, the silky smooth eggplant dish is only excellent when the eggplant has been charred and blackened before the cook delicately removes the flesh to reveal a creamy interior. Of course, authentic baba ghanouj isn’t braised but roasted, but the same simmering technique brings out the vegetable’s natural juices – turning a ho-hum baba ghanouj into a dip to share.
In Japan, nasu dengaku follows a similar process: eggplant is cut in half and slowly roasted in an oven covered with miso glaze.
However, traditionalists will tell you that the best way to cook Japanese eggplants is to braise them. The recipe known as nasu nibitashi involves slowly braising thin eggplants in a simple dashi-soy sauce broth before being served lightly chilled as a side dish. It is rarely found in restaurants and is only eaten at home; my friends from japan tell me they love making nasu nibitashi because it hardly takes any effort and is perfect in their little japanese house. The kitchen stays spotlessly clean – no oil spills on the counter and no scrubbing of pots and pans once you’re done. Happiness.
Look around the world and my point is made: eggplants rightly deserve their place in a pot.
In Chinese cuisine, eggplants prove to be best when braised.
Hong shao qie zi (紅燒 茄子) is basically a braised eggplant – a dish you see in every Chinese restaurant with the eggplants smothered in a sticky and spicy soy sauce, presented in a clay pot. My grandfather, who was a chef, prepared this dish by first quickly frying the eggplants, so that they keep their shape, before placing them in a clay pot with soy sauce, rice wine. , other Chinese spices and braise them slowly over a small flame.
My last toy in the kitchen is a decent, high-quality braising pan. In this cooking vessel, I put long strips of eggplant and the ingredients for my grandfather’s hong shao qie zi with half a cup of water. I bring to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes, before putting the lid on top and turning off the heat – allowing all the ingredients to cook slowly. Braised eggplants of this nature are best slowly cooked and ceramic pots are a replacement for my cheapo clay pots because their induction works much more efficiently. Eggplants are like sponges: they absorb all the delicious flavors and aromas of the spices that surround the vegetable. You can’t argue for a better way to cook this nightshade.
Outside of Asia, braised eggplants are popular. Cooked with Lebanese Baharat, the sweet and aromatic spices of cardamom, paprika and nutmeg help produce a smooth and creamy eggplant stew. In Greece, it’s hard not to fall in love with trahana-braised eggplants, with Greek pebbles also absorbing all the goodness of tomato and garlic in this Cretan classic.
Yes, eggplant is definitely best when tenderly braised. Are you convinced?