All recipes are for 2 servings unless noted. Oil is canola oil and salt is kosher salt.


Nasu eggplant

Solanum melongena

Eggplant is said to have arrived in Japan via China in the 7th or 8th century, and there are at least 100 different kinds of eggplant grown in Japan. They are mostly oblong and slender, and their skin is softer than typical large American eggplant or the small eggplant of Thailand and India. Some small eggplant is especially grown for pickles. Some large, fat ones are the results of cultivar improvement based on American eggplant. Eggplant is basically available all year around at shops in Japan, yet the fresh harvest from summer to early fall is unbeatably delicious.

Nasukon is the Japanese name for the dark, purplish navy color of eggplant skin. This dark purple color is from such polyphenolic components as nasunin, the antioxidant anthocyanin (purple), and hyacin (bluish purple). Eggplant’s purple color is better preserved when cooked in an iron pan. This is because anthocyanin easily dissolves in water, quickly changes color when subjected to heat, light and additives, and the color stabilizes to bluish purple upon reaction with metal ions. Besides using iron cookware, cooking with minimal water and only for a short time are other keys to retaining the color.

In old days, people said that eggplant was basically made of water and had little nutrition; it was eaten simply for the taste. Recent findings, however, show a more positive side of this vegetable. Eggplant contains chlorogenic acid, a type of polyphenol and a potent antioxidant that is known to work against cancer. Chlorogenic acid is the cause of its bitterness (minor, and masked when eggplant is cooked with oil). The nasunin mentioned above is also believed to offer the same effect.

Eggplant absorbs oil like sponge, and this can be a major drawback, regardless of how tasty it is. Deep-fried eggplant dishes are often hard to resist and tend to disappear quickly. No worries -- if served together with oil-free dishes, or meals before and after are prepared without oil.

An eggplant-related Japanese proverb says, aki-nasu wa yome ni kuwasu na – do not let your daughter-in-law eat fall eggplant. It has two interpretations. One is the ominous thinking that fall eggplant tends to have less seeds; and the other is the mean attitude that fall eggplant is too good for a daughter-in-law (tastier than summer eggplant). The first interpretation may be related to ancient Chinese knowledge that eggplant lowers the body temperature, and overconsumption is said to cause stomachache and diarrhea, and affect the uterus. In any case, it shows the traditional perception of the position of daughters-in-law.  Japanese proverbs were the topic of my college graduation thesis, and this particular one was always a downer. Still, eggplant remains one of my favorite vegetables.

22 kcal/100 g; 93.2% water, 1.1% protein, 0.1% fat, 5.1% carbohydrate, 0.5% ash

Chinese eggplant is a good substitute for Japanese eggplant, and it is more widely available (for a longer season) at Asian grocery stores in the Seattle area.

Recipes with nasu

(Last updated: June 27, 2018)

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