Steven Raichlen's travels on the barbecue trail have taken him to some pretty remarkable restaurants, but none has been as unabashedly theatrical as Tokyo's Inakaya. The moment you enter, a waiter in a blue robe announces your arrival; his colleagues repeat the announcement in voices that could rouse the dead. You take your seat amid more shouting ("the customer is sitting down"; "The customer is ordering") at a U-shaped bar facing a large display of meat, seafood and vegetables. You point to the ingredients that strike your fancy and the robabta-yaki begins. This style of simple heart cooking takes its name from the Japanese words ro (the hearth around which peasants once gathered for warmth and cooking) and yaki (grilled).The most remarkable aspect of robata-yaki is the utter simplicity of the preparation: most of the fare is seasoned solely with salt and sesame oil, so each ingredient tastes like itself, only more so. This mixed grill of vegetables has many virtues, not the least of which is that it's the best way Raichlen has found to cook okra.
Satisfying Vegetarian Recipes
1 pound okra
1 pound thick asparagus, ends trimmed
1/2 pound fresh shiitake or large button mushrooms, stems removed
6 slender Asian eggplants, halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons Asian sesame oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup white miso
1 tablespoon sake
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
How to Make It
Trim the stems off the okra; do not cut into the pods. Arrange the okra side by side and thread them in small groups on 2 parallel bamboo skewers. Treat the asparagus the same way. Threat the shiitake caps onto a skewer, 3 or 4 per skewer; the caps should lie flat. Using a sharp knife, make shallow crisscross cuts on both sides of each eggplant half. Transfer all the vegetables to a platter. Brush with the sesame oil and season with salt and pepper.
In a small bowl, whisk the miso with the sake, mirin, sugar and mayonnaise.
Light a grill. When the fire is hot, grill the eggplants, cut side down, for 3 to 4 minutes or until nicely browned. Turn the eggplants and brush with the miso sauce. Grill for 6 to 8 minutes longer, until the bottoms are nicely browned and the flesh is soft. Transfer the eggplants to a platter and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of the sesame seeds.
Grill the okra, asparagus and shiitakes, turning, for about 4 minutes or until nicely browned and cooked through. Transfer the vegetables to the platter, sprinkle with the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons of sesame seeds and serve.
Belgian wheat beer pairs wonderfully with vegetables because it's light and dry. Try Blanche de Bruges, which is flavored with coriander, orange peel and aromatic peppers.
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