Eggplants are a bit like Brussel's Sprouts in that it's a vegetable that tends to polarize people. Although it's one of my favorite vegetables, I know a lot of people don't feel the same way, which is a shame because a well prepared eggplant is ultra rich and creamy with a mild natural sweetness.
While they're a fairly versatile veggie, eggplants do need to be cooked thoroughly, otherwise they can be tough and chewy with an unpleasant green flavor. The easiest way to ensure you end up with tender eggplant is to deep fry it, but because of the porous texture of eggplant this can make it a bit greasy which presents its own set of problems.
To get around this, I borrowed a technique from Hasselback Potatoes to speed the cooking process while retaining the shape of the eggplant. By cutting slits into the eggplant it not only makes them cook faster and more evenly, it also helps them absorb the delightful flavors of garlic and soy sauce I used to season the dish.
Because eggplant becomes soft as it cooks it won't hold together if you slice it like a potato. The trick is to cut the slits on both sides of the eggplant at different angles so that you're able to maximize the surface area while retaining its structural integrity. Then you can pan-fry and steam the eggplant before seasoning it with browned garlic and soy sauce.
When choosing your eggplant look for small Japanese eggplants or other varieties of small thin-skinned eggplants without many seeds. These hasselback eggplants are great hot out of the pan, but they taste even better if you let it rest for a bit as the sauce has a chance to absorb into the eggplant.
- Trim the stem off of the eggplant and then lay the eggplant flat. Cut slits a little over halfway through the eggplant about 1/5 of an inch apart at a 90 degree angle to the direction of the eggplant (your knife and the eggplant should make a "+" symbol when you reach the center).
- Flip the eggplant over and then cut slits a little over halfway through the eggplant about 1/5 of an inch apart at a 45 degree angle to the direction of the eggplant.
- Put the eggplant in a frying pan, and coat with 1 tablespoon of oil, rubbing the oil evenly into the eggplant with your hands.
- Turn the heat onto medium and fry the eggplant, rolling them around to cook evenly. When the skin of the eggplant is shiny and bright purple all around, cover the pan with a lid and reduce the heat to medium-low. Steam the eggplant until it is tender (about 5-7 minutes).
- While the eggplant is steaming, add the soy sauce, sake and sugar into a small bowl and stir to combine.
- Remove the lid, turn up the heat to medium and then add the garlic along with the remaining 1 teaspoon of oil. Fry the eggplant and garlic until the garlic is browned and very fragrant.
- Add the sauce and roll the eggplant around to coat evenly with the sauce and garlic. The eggplant is shiny and glazed and there isn’t much liquid left in the pan.
- Garnish with cilantro.