Miso Glazed Eggplant (なす田楽 - Nasu Dengaku)
Miso Glazed Eggplant is a popular dish during summer and fall, which was traditionally prepared by grilling eggplant and then glazing it with a sweet and savory miso sauce.
Most modern versions are made by either deep frying or pan-frying the eggplant. The former tends to get greasy, while the latter tends to leave the eggplant watery and mushy. In my recipe, I roast the eggplant in the oven before glazing it with the Dengaku Miso and popping it back into the oven to caramelize.
Why This Recipe Works
- Coating the eggplant with some oil helps transfer the heat from the air in the oven into the eggplant, which gives it some nice even browning while making it tender and creamy all the way through.
- Roasting the eggplant in a very hot oven for a relatively short amount of time keeps the eggplant from getting tough and dry.
- Glazing the eggplant with sweet and savory miso and then returning it to the oven creates some caramelization, giving it a beautiful sheen on top while adding depth to its flavor.
Ingredients for Miso Glazed Eggplant
- Eggplant - There are dozens of varieties of eggplant in Japan, and Nasu Dengaku is traditionally made with varieties of eggplant that are thick and meaty with relatively high moisture content, such as kamonasu or mizunasu. I used a variety called beinasu, which roughly translates to "American Eggplant" it's similar to the Globe eggplants or Italian eggplant and works great as long as it's not too big (otherwise, it can contain a lot of bitter seeds). In case you're wondering, Japanese eggplants can be used, but they're thinner and have less water, so I've found they tend to get dried out if you slice them in half lengthwise. That's why I'd recommend cutting them into rounds that are as thick as they are wide if you plan to use this variety.
- Miso - Miso comes in many varieties and colors and flavors and you can learn more about the different types of miso here. Generally speaking, the darker the miso, the longer it has been aged and the saltier it tends to be. Hatcho miso is an exception as it's relatively lower in sodium despite being almost black. For my Dengaku glaze, I like making it with a blend of yellow miso and hatcho miso. This provides an excellent balance giving you the earthy flavors of the aged miso while mellowing it out a bit with the fresher yellow miso.
- Mirin - Mirin is an alcoholic beverage made by brewing whole grain rice with koji. It is loaded with amino acids such as glutamic acid, which imparts the taste of umami. Its high maltose content also helps to lend the glaze a glossy sheen. The drawback is that it can be very difficult to find brewed mirin outside of Japan. You can check the mirin by looking at the ingredient label. It most likely is not real mirin if it includes ingredients like sugar, corn syrup, MSG, or salt. If you can't find real mirin, you will be better off using sake (make sure it's sake for drinking and not a "cooking sake') with sugar. I usually mix 2 parts sake to 1 part sugar.
- Sugar - Although the mirin is sweet, dengaku miso gets its glossy sheen and caramelized flavor by having a lot of sugar. If you prefer it to be less sweet, you can cut back on the amount of sugar, but it won't form the same glaze without it. I used a minimally processed evaporated cane juice as my sugar, but honey, maple syrup, or even white sugar will work. If you use Saikyo miso to make your glaze, you can skip the sugar as it is already very sweet.
- Oil - The oil helps transfer the heat from the air in the oven to the eggplant, ensuring it cooks through more evenly. It also helps make the texture of the eggplant more creamy.
- Garnishes - Miso glazed eggplant is delicious as-is, but it's not the prettiest thing, so I recommend garnishing it with something green. I've used chopped scallions and a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds, which add a pop of color and a nice contrasting texture to the creamy eggplant.
How to Make Miso Glazed Eggplant
Set the oven rack in the middle position and preheat it to 500 degrees F (260 C).
To ensure your eggplant sits flat, set it on a flat surface and let it roll until it comes to a rest. Then, slice it in half lengthwise so that the bottom of each half will rest on its flat spot.
Use a sharp knife to slice around the edge of the skin about a half-inch deep. This creates a gap between the skin and the flesh that you can dig a spoon into when you eat it. Be careful not to slice through the skin.
Next, cut slits into the center of the cut surface of the eggplant in a cross-hatch pattern. This creates more surface area, allowing the eggplant to cook through faster. It also makes it easy to spoon out cubes of eggplant when you eat it.
Rub most of the oil into the cut surfaces of the eggplant and spread any remaining oil onto the skin side. Put the eggplant on a baking sheet with the cut surface facing up. Roast the eggplant until it's well browned and tender (about 15-20 minutes.)
For the dengaku miso sauce, add the miso and sugar to the mirin and mix it until it's very smooth and free of any lumps.
Once the eggplant is cooked through, remove it from the oven and spread a thick layer of dengaku sauce all over the top. You want to spread the miso glaze into the crevices and right up the edge, but be careful not to spill any glaze onto the pan, or it will burn and make a mess.
Return the eggplant to the oven and let the miso glaze caramelize. This should take about 5-7 minutes but watch it closely as the glaze will burn easily.
When it's done, garnish your Nasu Dengaku with some sesame seeds and scallions and serve while it's still hot.
Other Ways to Use Miso
Miso-glazed eggplant, which is known as Nasu Dengakau (なす田楽) in Japan, is a dish that's traditionally made by grilling eggplant and then glazing it with a sweet and savory miso sauce. The technique of grilling and glazing with miso is called Dengaku, and historically the preparation was more commonly used with tofu. Dengaku was originally the name of a ritual dance where the performer dressed in a boxy gown and stood on a long pogo stick-shaped pole. Since tofu on a skewer looks a bit like the dancer on a stick, this is where the dish got its name.
Nasu Dengaku is a 5-syllables and is pronounced as follows:
na like knob
su like soup
den like dental
ga like gone
ku like cool
In Japan, Nasu Dengaku is usually served as an appetizer or side dish (such as at an izakaya); however, its meaty texture and robust flavor make it well suited to serve as an entre as well. If you plan to serve it as an entree, I'd recommend pairing this with some rice, along with some miso soup and sesame spinach.
This Miso Glazed Eggplant recipe is plant-based, so it is vegetarian and vegan-friendly. However, some versions of this dish can include meat or dashi, so if you have it at a restaurant, be sure to ask first.
- 3 tablespoons mirin
- 2 tablespoons miso (I used a 50:50 mix of hatcho and yellow)
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 large eggplant
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
- 1 scallion (chopped)
- Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F (260 C).
- Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and then use a sharp knife to cut a border around the outside perimeter of the cut surfaces about ½-inch deep.
- Add ½ deep slits in a cross-hatch pattern to the center of the cut surfaces of the eggplant.
- Drizzle the cut surfaces of the eggplant with most of the oil and rub it in with your fingers. Next, drizzle any remaining oil onto the skin side and rub it in.
- Place the eggplant cut-side up on a baking tray and roast the eggplant until it's tender and medium brown on top (15-20 minutes).
- While the eggplant is roasting, add the miso and sugar to the mirin and mix until it's smooth and free of lumps.
- When it's done, remove the eggplant from the oven and slather a generous layer of miso glaze onto the cut surfaces of the eggplant, being sure to get it into all of the crevices as well.
- Put the pan back into the oven to let the glaze caramelize (an additional 5-7 minutes. Be careful not to burn the glaze.
- When the dengaku sauce has caramelized, remove the pan from the oven and garnish with the sesame seeds and chopped scallions. Serve the miso-glazed eggplant immediately.