“I love this sushi place. They have the best miso eggplant!” — said no one ever...except for me. Sure, sashimi and Dragon Rolls are pretty great too, but one of my favorite staples on a Japanese menu is the miso-glazed eggplant starter, which I use as a metric for the overall quality of the establishment. If they use authentic Japanese eggplant (which are much thinner and longer than the usual garden variety), char the eggplant so that the flesh almost melts in your mouth, and are able to get the most out of that miso glaze (like adding orange to heighten the complexity of the umami, for example), then you can rest assured that their sushi and sashimi are going to be top notch too.
I’ve made this appetizer many times at home and each time I’ve happily (bordering on greedily) devoured the end product, but it wasn’t until I put my own (very simple) twist on it that it went from inhale-able to savor-worthy. When you learn what that twist is, you might roll your eyes at its irritating simplicity, but, trust me, this slight addition makes a world of difference in how the flavors, textures, and temperatures work together.
That twist is pink grapefruit. How simple is that? The only caveat is making sure the segments are perfectly supremed, meaning completely clean and without any trace of the membrane. The crisp, citrusy, juicy grapefruit chunks add a refreshing jolt to the overall bite and go extremely well with the miso flavor. Another citrusy element that gives the miso a boost is orange juice, which my former local sushi haunt, Kiku, used in its recipe. To top it all off, I sprinkle the whole thing with orange zest — because what's prettier than a sprinkling of citrus zest?
If you prefer a more straightforward presentation, you can just line them up side by side and it looks equally as fetching.
2 Japanese eggplants (about ¾ pound)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
⅓ cup white miso
1 tablespoon mirin
3 teaspoons ginger, minced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon orange juice
1 teaspoon orange zest
3 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
1 quarter of a pink grapefruit
Salt to taste
Scallions for garnishing
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Cut stems off eggplants and cut eggplants in half lengthwise, then cut halves into two or three pieces, depending on how big you want your pieces to be.
Lightly salt eggplant segments, flesh side. Set aside for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk the miso, mirin, ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, orange juice, and orange zest with 1 tbsp. of water in a bowl.
Brush both sides of eggplant segments with vegetable oil and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper, cut side down.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until tender and the skin begins to shrivel.
Remove eggplant from oven and preheat the broiler (set for high).
Smear the eggplant segments (cut side) with a generous spoonful of the miso mixture and broil for about 4 minutes, or until the glaze starts to bubble and turn golden. (It’s OK if the edges char slightly, but not too much.)
Supreme the grapefruit quarter and cut slices into ½-inch segments; cut enough for 1-2 grapefruit segments per eggplant slice.
When eggplants are finished broiling, remove from oven and let cool slightly.
Top with grapefruit segments and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and scallions.