One thing that prevents me from doing more “exotic” (i.e. non-European/North American) cooking is the ingredients required. I feel like if you want to be serious about it, you need to pick one cuisine and slowly but surely curate a cupboard full of the corresponding tools, ingredients (oh, the spices!), and recipes. If you’re a normal human being, you will probably just sometimes splurge on some ingredients and they will then linger in the back of your cupboard until they go off, having been used once or twice. At least that’s what happens to me. As a result, the lovely Japanese cookbook I was gifted by friends a few years ago has been given precious little use (not to speak of the Indian one I bought myself and haven’t even used once). Does anyone else get that “exotic ingredients problem” and if so, how do you deal with it? I’d be curious to know!
So whenever I see a recipe that doesn’t require spending a fortune on stuff you need to buy specially but will be using only a pinch of although it comes in a 3kg container – slight exaggeration there, perhaps – I get very excited.
I discovered one in the aforementioned Japanese cookbook* a few years ago and it became a favourite with Mr Liburuak and I. It goes by the fine name of Nasu no hikiniku hasami-yaki, according to the cookbook, and is much less complex than this might leave you to imagine. We didn’t make it every week, but when we were living together, we made it often enough to keep us going through dashi, Japanese soy sauce, and rice vinegar before they went funny. Now that work is keeping us almost the whole length of Germany apart, I haven’t made it in ages. So what better use to make of my week of playing housewife last week (a period otherwise known as a holiday) while the poor man performed very sophisticated scientific experiments all day, than to venture to the Asian supermarket one day.
Ingredients (this supposedly serves 4. To get an idea of how greedy we are, it served the two of us).
- 2-3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1/2 onion, finely chopped
- 2 aubergines
For the filling
- 300g minced meat (beef or mixed beef/pork)
- 1 egg, beaten
- 5 tbsp breadcrumbs
- 1/2 tsp salt
For the sauce - these are the original quantities, which I suspect might end up leaving you a bit short (this is so good you’ll want to bathe in it). I doubled the quantities and we had some left over. So make one and a half times as much and you’ll probably be good.
- 1 tbsp Japanese rice vinegar (yonezu)
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp fish stock (dashi)
- 2 tbsp Japanese soy sauce (shoyu)
Heat 1 tbsp of the vegetable oil in a pan and glaze the onions in it. In a bowl, combine the egg, meat, breadcrumbs, glazed onion and salt. Mix well using your hands until you have a homogeneous mixture.
Cut the aubergine lengthwise into thick slices, which should give you about 4 slices per aubergine. Now, I have to admit, comes a part where I really do not understand the cookbook’s instructions. They’re worded so strangely that for the life of me I can’t imagine what sort of cut I should perform on the poor aubergine slices, so I just wing it (unfortunately the book doesn’t provide a picture to help the lexically challenged along): what I do is to lie the aubergine slices flat on a surface and cut into the skin on one side as if I wanted to slice them in thinner slices – but instead of cutting completely through, I leave the other side uncut to create a pocket.
Then dust the inside of the pocket with a bit of flour and stuff in the meat filling. In a frying pan with the rest of the vegetable oil, fry the aubergines on medium heat, flipping them regularly until they are brown on both sides and the meat is done. This involves a bit of guesswork and some time, maybe 10 minutes per slice. If you can’t fit all of the aubergine slices into your pan at once, reserve them in the oven at 60°C until the rest are done.
For the sauce, just mix the ingredients together.
Once the aubergines are done, serve them immediately and pour the sauce over them. Enjoy!
* Emi Kazuko (2002): Masterclass in Japanese Cooking. London: Pavilion Books. I have the Spanish edition entitled Cocina japonesa (Blume, 2004).