Photo/IllutrationCold dish of steamed eggplant (Photo by Masahiro Gohda)

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Editor’s note: The theme of Gohan Lab is to help people make simple, tasty “gohan” (meals).

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The second installment of the summer vegetables series features eggplant. It is a versatile vegetable that can be turned into a variety of dishes, but it may be enjoyed in a refreshing way by steaming.

When steamed, the eggplant is cooked by a generous amount of enveloping steam. This way, it is less likely to lose its shape or water-soluble flavor and nutrients.

Don’t worry if you do not own a bamboo steamer or other types. Katsuhiko Yoshida, who oversees Chinese cuisine covered in Gohan Lab, will tell us how to steam using items found around the kitchen.

His choices are a deep frying pan or pot with a lid and a heat-proof dish that fits inside. Cover the dish tautly with aluminum foil and make holes in the foil. Now you have an improvised steamer.

Lay the eggplant slices on the dish so they do not overlap and cover with a paper towel. This step is useful to prevent the eggplant from becoming watery owing to the drops of water that fall from the lid while steaming. The eggplant becomes soft in texture by peeling and its refreshing flavor is enhanced by cooling in the fridge.

BASIC COOKING METHOD

(Supervised by Katsuhiko Yoshida in the cooking aspect and Midori Kasai in the cookery science aspect)

* Ingredients and cooking utensils (Serves two) 3 eggplants, 1 tsp grated ginger, 1 stalk thin “banno-negi”-type green onion, 1 Tbsp vinegar, 1 Tbsp soy sauce, 1/2 tsp sesame oil, kitchen knife and cutting board, peeler, pot or deep frying pan, heat-proof dish, aluminum foil, a piece of paper towel

1. Choose eggplants that are taut and dark in color. Cut off calyx and remove skin with peeler starting from the opposite end of calyx. Cut lengthwise in 8 equal pieces (PHOTO A).

2. Cover dish tautly with aluminum foil and make holes all over with chopsticks. Lay eggplants on top so they do not overlap (PHOTO B).

3. Pour about a cup of water in pot and place dish inside. Cover eggplant with paper towel and place lid making sure the paper towel is not showing. Turn on to high heat. When it comes to a boil, lower to medium heat and wait for 6 minutes. If bamboo steamer is used, cook for 4 minutes over high heat. Wait 6 minutes for other types of steamer. As there is a risk of the paper towel catching fire if the pot is left to boil dry, measure the time accurately.

4. Turn off heat and open lid. Remove dish and cool by fanning. Be careful not to burn yourself with the droplets when opening lid (PHOTO C).

5. Before eating, place ginger and chopped green onion on eggplants. Mix vinegar, soy sauce and sesame oil and pour on top.

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Katsuhiko Yoshida is the owner-chef of Jeeten, a restaurant in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Uehara district offering Chinese home cooking.

Midori Kasai is a professor at Ochanomizu University and chairperson of the Japan Society of Cookery Science.

ARRANGED VERSION

<Mapo eggplant>

Add 2 Tbsp oil and 50 grams ground pork in frying pan and turn on heat. Sautee over medium heat. When meat changes color, turn off heat and add 1/2 tsp doubanjiang (“tobanjan”), 1 tsp Tianmian sauce (“tenmenjan”) and cook over low heat. Add 1/2 cup water and turn up to high heat. When water comes to a boil, add steamed pieces of 3 eggplants, add 1 tsp grated ginger, 1/2 tsp grated garlic, 30 grams finely chopped green onion and cook. Add 1 Tbsp sake and 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce and reduce somewhat. Turn off heat, add mixture of 1/2 Tbsp katakuriko starch and 1 Tbsp water in circular motion, turn on heat again and stir-fry a little. Turn off heat, add 1 tsp vinegar and it is done.

COOKERY SCIENCE

In general, vegetables keep better in the fridge. But some vegetables suffer from “low-temperature injury” and become speckled or wrinkled. This occurs when the cell membranes of vegetables that grew in higher temperatures fall into an abnormal state. Though the time that the symptoms start to emerge depends on the vegetable, eggplants should be eaten up within about a week while being kept in the fridge.

Q&A

Question: Vegetables can go bad even when kept in the fridge. Do you have any preservation tips?

Answer: (By Takashi Kondo) Vegetables stay alive even after being harvested. To use a human analogy, they are using their own energy without drinking or eating. So, we should keep them in the vegetable compartment of the fridge and eat them with haste, as they will inevitably deteriorate.

If eating them up quickly is difficult, some vegetables retain their flavor better when boiled until they are still textured and then frozen. Although this does not suit the eggplant, the in-season “edamame” (green soybean) should be hard-boiled in the pod while they are fresh and kept in the freezer. If they are boiled again briefly before eating, they taste better than when kept in the fridge as is.

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Takashi Kondo is secretary-general of the Japan Produce Alliance for Better Health

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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Gohan Lab column