Clear into autumn


September 13, 2020

Savory eggplant to welcome autumn

My love of autumn quells the sorrow of summer passing. In the pink glow of a lean morning the raspy coo of doves opens the day, while the pulse of cicadas brings it to a close, urging us into the the gloaming.

A week ago today we were preparing for the worst as typhoon Haishen, deemed the worst storm to approach Japan in decades, looked to be heading right at us. After a sleepless night of fierce winds we rose tentative and wary to find the chimneys and trees still standing, all windows in tact, and none of our worst fears realized. 

The storm had weakened as it moved off of record warm waters and had veered just far enough east to spare us a direct hit. We walked the neighborhood, the paths carpeted with branches, to find fields of rice, still a month or two from harvest, flattened and defeated, like so many of our souls are in this trying year. A pandemic, fierce storms, raging fires, drought and flood, clear signs that the earth is shuddering under our weight.

The typhoon dropped us clear into autumn with an instant shift into cooler, dryer air. Despite the traumatic deliverance, it’s a welcome relief. Hungers I haven’t felt in months are rising. Meatier vegetables cooked with fire and served room temperature laced with a charred smokiness that alludes to fires in the hearth, drawing close, and seeking warmth that the coming season will inspire.

I was never a picky eater, even as a child, but for reasons I don’t recall I declared my dislike of eggplants. I found their blandness offensive and I laid blame on the eggplant itself. I ignored them for years assuming they held no potential at all but all of this changed when I came to Japan. Here I have eaten eggplant, called nasu, in the most delicious ways, deep fried as tempura, fried and then simmered in fine broth, picked with cucumber, ginger, and myoga in shibazuke. But one of my favorites is the way Hanako often makes it, grilled to melt-in-the-mouth perfection, peeled, dressed, and garnished with scallion and katsuobushi flakes. Simple, elegant, and delicious, the trifecta that defines good food. Aqueous and earthy, nasu is at the peak of flavor in this season of easing into autumn with the warmth of summer still at our backs. 

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