Soul Cages and Japanese Food

My current musical obsession is Sting’s latest album ‘The Last Ship’, a musical inspired by his childhood experiences and the shipbuilding industry in the north of the UK. The music and lyrics are beautiful, folksy and are a moving and melancholy delight.

I am particularly struck by a song in which Sting suggests that we keep our souls in a cage. That is, before they are set free from this mortal coil and sent to the ‘Island of Souls’ for eternity. He talks about his father’s soul, living in the same cage as the carrier pigeons that he lovingly tended to. My understanding is that his fathers soul resides in the place it feels whole, happy and rounded. Which gets me to thinking, where would my soul cage be?

Probably somewhere in our kitchen. Perhaps squashed between the pages of one of the many loved recipe books or nestled in a well used mixing bowls? Is it tucked away in the motor of the KitchenAid or possibly lounging in the base of my cast iron casserole dish? I do know that one of the places I feel most content and most, well, myself, is the kitchen.

This is how I show my sons, husband, family and friends; my love and appreciation. Through baking and cooking food that nourishes them, warms them, cheers them up, heals them and sometimes even challenges them.

The Yak is a vegetarian and a coeliac and these dishes were cooked because I love him. Well, most of the time, except when he ships me. (That is not a mis-type.)

The inspiration came from a giant eggplant that needed to be eaten and a Hairy Bikers episode in Kyoto, Japan. The Hairy Bikers (like Sting and The Yak), herald from the north of England. Their passionate love of food and delightful turn of phrase is an absolute joy.

The silken eggplant combined with the umami miso paste is a revelation. Teeny miso angels rose up and played little eggplant trumpets whilst we ate…really, they did. Combined with crunchy bites of tofu, we were replete and content.

As the Hairy Bikers, Sting, Northern English shipwrights or The Yak might say, this was a right cracking feed.

NASU DENGAKU (Miso glazed eggplant)

1 ginormous eggplant or two medium sized
1 tbl sugar
1 tbl mirin
3 tbl miso paste
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbl water
1 tbl toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Slice the eggplant in half lengthways and score with a criss cross pattern, this helps retain the sauce.
Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper, scored side down and bake in oven for 20 to 25 minutes until tender. Remove and set aside.
Whilst the eggplant is baking, place all the remaining ingredients (except the sesame seeds) in a saucepan and stir over a low heat until they are combined.
Brush sauce over the cooked eggplant and grill for 3-5 minutes until dark golden brown and bubbling.
Serve and garnish with sesame seeds.


400g silken tofu (I only had firm so I just used what I had, you can make this recipe with less tofu.)
1 cup Vegetarian dashi (which I didn’t have, so it was really Tofu Age?)
2 tbl Soy sauce
2 tbl mirin
Vegetable oil for shallow frying
5 tbl brown or white rice flour for coating
1 Spring onion, finely sliced ( which I also didn’t have)

Wrap the tofu in paper towel and drain by placing a dish upon it to get rid of excess moisture.
Put the dashi, soy sauce and mirin in a saucepan, bring to the boil then take off the heat and set aside.
Discard the paper towel, slice the tofu in half lengthways and cut each piece into 9 pieces.
Heat 1 cm of oil in a frypan or saucepan. Coat the tofu in brown rice flour and fry on each side until they are light golden brown.
Drain on paper towel.
Serve the tofu with the dashi sauce poured over and garnish with the spring onion.

Both recipes are based on past experiments and the recipes from websites listed after the photos.