I am connected to the rest of the world through my phone - impatiently reading news about Puerto Rico and Mexico, and the US. And North Korea. The world is on fire and I feel guilty to be on vacation in one of the most beautiful, most interesting places in the world.
After twelve days in Shinano, a small town nearby Lake Nojiri located about 40 minutes west of Nagano, Tokyo feels like a shot of espresso after a cup of the most calming green tea. Every day, I would wake up with the sun, go for a run through hills, then make a traditional Japanese breakfast- white rice, miso soup, and vegetables. The day would pass by slowly, entertained by the simplest of tasks. One day we hiked up a 8,000 foot mountain, another, build a chicken coop, or visit a nearby town. Maybe it was a bit too easy for my custom fast-paced- Soul-Cycled-hard-working-never-sleeps-NYC-pace, but for a change – I took it and tried to enjoy being immerse in somebody else’s life and culture.
In the mountains, Japan sounds like this – quiet, gentle, restrained, and almost austere. The air is clean, the people gentle and kind. The food is impossibly simple. Whoever told you perfection is not attainable is lying – it exists only here.
I have a lot to say about Tokyo, but first, I want to share this simple eggplant recipe I coincidentally made just before leaving New York. Little did I know that I would be eating eggplant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner throughout my entire stay in Shinano. Our friends living there have a farm and most of the produce we cooked with came from the neighboring farms. Everything was picked fresh and eaten by us within a couple of days. The eggplant was sweet and creamy, the miso paste salty and rich, and the gremolata bright and crunchy. This dish might be a little too complex for the Japanese, but this is a great recipe in my book.
Japanese Eggplant and Zucchini with Miso and Seeds
1 cast iron skillet
- 2 medium sized Japanese eggplants
- 1 zucchini
- 1 drizzle olive oil for cooking
- 1 tablespoon miso paste
- 1 handful pumpkin seeds
- 1 handful cilantro
- 1 tablespoon white or black sesame seeds
- 2 tablespoons good olive oil
- juice of half a lemon
- 1 pinch of salt
- Wash and pat dry the eggplant and the zucchini. Using a sharp knife, cut into 1” thick rounds.
- Place the cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and let it get warm for four to five minutes.
- Once hot, reduce heat to medium and add a drizzle of olive oil. Place eggplant and zucchini in the pan. PRO-TIP: Do not overcrowd the pan, leave a little bit of room around each vegetable piece.
- Cook, flipping once, for about 5-10 minutes. Eggplant is cooked when all the white parts turn light pale color and consistency is soft, but golden around the edges.
- At this point, add the miso paste and a tiny drizzle of water. Stir in the miso paste with the water and reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for a couple of minutes.
- As the vegetables cook, roughly chop the pumpkin seeds and the cilantro. Place in a small bowl and add in the sesame seeds, the olive oil, and the lemon juice. Mix in together to create a loose sauce.
- To serve, place the vegetables on a plate and spoon gremolata over the vegetables, then add a couple cilantro leaves as garnish. Sprinkle a bit of salt over everything. Eat immediately with rice!
Cook time: 20 minutes