In August, you’ll often see eggplants as part of Obon, or festival of the dead, when ancestors’ spirits are said to travel through time and space and return to the human realm. As part of the custom beginning on August 13, eggplants are affixed with wooden sticks to create crude four-legged structures set out on the family altar or sometimes outside of front doors or gates of homes. The eggplant represents the plodding ox which will return the spirits to the netherworld, carrying all the offerings and gifts received over the festival period. The ox’s partner is the speedy horse, represented by the cucumber. The horse hastens the spirits to our world at the beginning of the Obon period. A quick journey by horse and a slow return by ox is the idea! For students, their regular summer homework and school club activities pause during these last dog days of summer. Once the festival period ends, so, too, does the atmosphere of summertime lazy, dazy days. (Serves 3-4)
1 medium-size Italian eggplant (or 2 to 3 Japanese eggplants)
¼ pound ground pork
¼ green bell pepper, sliced into very thin strips
2 tablespoons miso
2 tablespoons mirin
½ teaspoon dashi granules
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon ginger powder
Hot cooked short-grain white rice
Large frying pan, small saucepan, paper towels
1. Peel the eggplant in alternating strips so that it retains half its skin, and cut into bite-size pieces. In a large frying pan, heat a generous amount of oil over medium-high heat, and brown each side of the eggplant. Once cooked, remove the eggplant, and place on a plate with paper towels.
2. In a small saucepan, brown the ground pork and green pepper. Once the meat is almost cooked, add the miso, mirin, dashi, sugar, and ginger powder. Add enough water to cover the top of the meat.
3. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, and simmer over medium-low heat. Stir the mixture regularly, and cook until the water has reduced slightly.
4. Transfer the meat mixture to the frying pan, and add the eggplant. Simmer over medium heat until it reaches the desired consistency. Pair with rice.