Fried Eggplant with Perilla & Ponzu

Perilla is a unique herb and goes best with co-ingredients which allow its flavors to shine through. In the case of vegetables, I love pairing perilla with eggplant. In addition to the stark contrast of flavors, there is also a beautiful marriage of textures. When fried, the eggplant takes on both a crispiness and a moist softness which compliments the coarse, and sometimes lightly bristly, texture of the perilla. It is particularly beautiful if you add an extra layer of citrus to the mix as I have done in this case. Ponzu is a japanese sauce made from soy sauce, sake, mirin, bonito flakes, kombu and yuzu. Yuzu is an Asian citrus with a flavor that meets ambiguously between something like a lemon and a tangerine. Some also compare it to a meyer lemon…..but I’m not so sure I agree with that as meyer lemons tend to be rather sweet to me ;). Yuzu are not particularly sweet but rather sour and with a more savory, aromatic flavor. The rind is as equally as aromatic and infuses into liquids brilliantly. This recipe uses a mixture of ponzu and sesame oil to create a “dressing” of sorts. Simple and easy, this dish will be easy to whip to together, so long as you are not afraid of a little deep frying.

Fried Eggplant with Perilla & Ponzu

Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side

5-6 small to medium Japanese Eggplants- any long skinny Asian variety of eggplant will do. Small and/or young eggplants work best for frying.

A handful of Perilla leaves– Choose the smaller leaves if you can. If all you have is large leaves, tear them into smaller pieces. Japanese Green Shiso is my preferred and tends to be on the smaller side anyway, but Korean Kkaenip will also work here!

1/4 cup Ponzu + 2 Tbsp Sesame Oil– If you can’t find ponzu, I’ll be posting a recipe for it on my website soon once I’ve finished testing this latest batch I’ve made. In the meantime, you can mix 2Tbsp Soy Sauce with 2Tbsp Mirin (or Sake with some sugar to sweeten) and the juice of about half a small lemon to replace the Ponzu. Although it is worth the effort to find and buy Ponzu or try my recipe for it (soon!)

Roasted Sesame Seeds to garnish, Optional

Frying Oil– Canola or Rice Bran oil are my preferred here

Sea Salt to taste

Cut your eggplants in half lengthwise and score the skin in a cross-hatch pattern. This keeps the skin from turning into a solid, impenetrable “helmet” (haha) and looks super pretty. Cut into large 2 inch chunks.

Heat a few inches of oil in a wok or other pot or pan suitable for shallow deep frying. The oil should come to approximately 375 F.

While the oil is heating, mix the sauce ingredients together and set aside in a small receptacle with a lip for pouring.

When the oil is ready, slide the eggplant pieces in and at the beginning keep them moving. When they come to the surface and are exposed to air before going back down, it helps them crisp up better. Fry your pieces for just a few minutes until soft and golden brown.

Take them out with a slotted spoon and lay them out on a plate lined with newspaper and/or paper towel. Not sure why but newspaper is a superstar at absorbing oil or so says any Asian aunty. Let drain slightly.

Get your your perilla and tear off the small pieces or tear up the large leaves.

Transfer the eggplant to a serving plate and lightly fold in the raw perilla leaves. Season with a bit of sea salt.

Lightly drizzle the sauce, ensuring you get the flesh of the eggplant so it absorbs in. You’ll know it’s enough sauce when it begins to pool at the bottom of the plate slightly. A shallow pool is good but don’t let them swim in liquid.

Sprinkle sesame seeds on top and serve just as everything is beginning to cool to room temperature. This dish doesn’t need to be eaten piping hot.

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