In 1980, when Armando Miranda took his first job in America as a line cook, he barely knew a muffin from a mousse. That has changed. In his peregrinations through prominent Houston restaurants, including the River Cafe, he taught himself to cook. Even today he’s a free spirit. “I don’t go to books for recipes,” he says. “I play around with ingredients.” He loves Southwestern cuisine—“All those peppers and wild stuff”—and he uses nuts and seeds for flavor and texture. His two-tone sesame-crusted scallops are striking, and the accompanying grilled eggplant with mozzarella, tomatoes, and red onions provides an arresting visual counterpoint.

Sesame-Crusted Scallops

3 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
8 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup peanut oil
1/8 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons sesame seed oil
1 egg
2 pounds fresh sea scallops
6 tablespoons each black and white sesame seeds (black sesame seeds available at ethnic groceries and gourmet supermarkets)
Olive oil (enough to coat pan)

For sauce, in a blender combine first 8 ingredients. Blend until smooth. Set aside; keep at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Drain scallops and let dry until sticky, not wet. Coat with sesame seeds. Heat oil in sauté pan. Place scallops in pan one at a time and cook 2 to 3 minutes on medium-high heat, turning once with tongs. When scallops are opaque, remove from heat, place on ovenproof dish, and bake 4 to 5 minutes, until white sesame seeds turn golden.

To serve, arrange scallops on top of sauce. Serves 4.

Grilled Eggplant

2 large Roma tomatoes, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
1/2 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 bottle rice vinegar
1 large eggplant
Olive oil
1–2 tablespoons grated mozzarella cheese (per serving)
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar (per serving)
1/2 teaspoon olive oil (per serving)

Marinate tomato and onion in rice vinegar (enough to cover) for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut eggplant vertically or horizontally, as preferred, in 1/4-inch slices. Allow 1 to 4 slices for each person. Do not remove skin. Brush with olive oil.

Grill approximately 15 seconds on each side. (May be sautéed; cook until slices begin to look translucent.)

Place on ovenproof serving dish. Top with grated mozzarella, and bake until cheese melts. Remove from oven, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and garnish with slices of marinated tomato and red onion.