Why It Works
- Roasting softens and draws out moisture from the eggplant, which concentrates their flavor.
- Tearing roasted eggplant into strips gives it textural contrast and more surface area for absorbing the savory-sweet dressing.
What is Gaji-Namul?
Gaji-namul is a classic summer banchan of steamed eggplant marinated with soy sauce, garlic, and sesame oil, garnished with scallions and toasted sesame seeds. It's traditionally served chilled, making it the perfect vegetable side dish to bring to a cookout in August.
Choosing the Right Eggplant
My favorite eggplant to use for this banchan is Chinese or Japanese eggplant. With their thin skins, dense flesh, and the fact that they have relatively few seeds, they're ideal for soaking up the flavorful dressing without completely turning to mush. These kinds of eggplant are also delicious roasted, so I decided, with a nod to my halmoni, to put a spin on this summertime classic by roasting the eggplant first, to give the dish a hint of smokiness, and then marinating it in a honey-sesame dressing that has a lots of savory funk from fish sauce and doenjang and a bright hit of acidity from distilled white vinegar.
The Basic Method
To make this gaji-namul, start by roasting the eggplant with a little oil until they’re fully tender. Once cool, you can tear the eggplant into long ribbons with your hands and dunk them into the marinade. Then, all you have to do is gently massage the marinade into the ribbons by hand, so that larger pieces of eggplant maintain their shape, while smaller ones melt in with the dressing to give the banchan a creamy texture reminiscent of baba ganoush.
Serving the Finished Dish
You want to serve the gaji-namul cold, but you also want to give the eggplant time to fully absorb the marinade, so chill it for at least a couple of hours before serving. Once chilled, it's the perfect summer side dish to break out of a cole slaw rut, and I've also found it makes a. pretty killers sandwich spread, too: smoky, salty, and sweet, with a hint of bitterness from the eggplant and sesame.
- 2 pounds (910g) Japanese eggplant (4 to 6 eggplants, depending on size), ends trimmed and halved lengthwise
- 1/4 cup (60ml) vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon (4g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt use half as much by volume or an equal amount by weight
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) honey
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) distilled white vinegar
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) toasted sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon (15g) doenjang
- 2 medium garlic cloves (10g), finely chopped
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (6g) coarsely ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup (30g) toasted sesame seeds
- 2 scallions (30g), sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions and preheat oven to 425°F (220°C). Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, toss eggplant with vegetable oil and salt until evenly coated on all sides. Arrange eggplant, cut side down, on prepared baking sheets, leaving at least 1/2-inch of space between each piece; set bowl aside, but don’t clean. Roast eggplant until it is browned all over and completely tender, offering little resistance when poked with a paring knife, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating baking sheets back to front and top to bottom halfway through roasting. Set aside until cool enough to handle, 10 to 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in now-empty bowl, whisk together honey, vinegar, sesame oil, fish sauce, doenjang, garlic, and pepper until well combined (dressing will not be fully emulsified). Stir in sesame seeds.
Once eggplant is cool enough to handle, using clean hands, tear eggplant pieces lengthwise into 1/2- to 3/4-inch-wide ribbons, and add to bowl with dressing.
With one hand, form your fingers into a claw and gently massage dressing into eggplant, swirling your hand around the contents of the bowl but without squeezing the eggplant, until the dressing has been fully absorbed, 2 to 3 minutes. Gently fold in scallions. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Serve chilled.
Rimmed baking sheets
Make-Ahead and Storage
Gaji-namul can be made in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Serve chilled.