Eggplant is one of those much beloved and much hated vegetables. I think that for people who hate eggplant, it's all about the texture. And for people who love eggplant, it's all about the texture. Learning to cook eggplant properly results in people loving eggplant, as far as I can tell.
If it's cooked in too much liquid, eggplant can become rubbery and chewy, the dreaded "walrus meat" texture. Ick. When cooked with olive oil and roasted at a high heat, eggplant magically becomes soft as butter, smooth, and mellow tasting.
Eggplant parmesan in the oven can be tricky because the eggplant can dry out, but I've found a method that works pretty well. So here it is! You will need: an eggplant, panko bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, olive oil, garlic powder, Italian herb seasoning, and salt.
In a bowl, combine 1/2 c. parmesan cheese, 1/2 c. panko crumbs, 1 t. garlic powder, 1/2 t. Italian herbs, and 1/2 t. salt.
Peel and slice the eggplant in 1/2 inch thick slices. Place them on a plate, and sprinkle with salt on both sides. Allow them to sit for 10-15 minutes. This causes them to "sweat" out some of their liquid, which will remove any bitter taste from the the eggplant, and also make the crumbs stick to them better.
You can see from my photo that I've peeled my eggplant by slicing off the peels with my knife. It resulted in hexagon slices rather than perfect circles, but it also made the process that much faster! I'm always one for making my prep time quicker if I can.
Next, dip the slices into the crumb mixture. You can press crumbs onto each slice to help them stick. Lay the slices on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and drizzle with olive oil. I also distributed the remainder of my crumbs onto the top of each slice.
Be generous with the olive oil! I would say I used 1-2 teaspoons of oil on each slice. I've yet to find a "low fat" method of cooking eggplant that works. This is a vegetable that loves its olive oil. They are a perfect pair. However, this method still uses less fat than deep frying.
Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Check the eggplant frequently, as you want to remove it just when it's golden brown. I've found that oven times can vary on this.
Voila! This method results in eggplant that is super crispy on the outside, buttery soft on the inside, and just perfect. You can serve it with pasta and marinara sauce, or just a simple salad for a lighter meal.
As someone who spends a lot of time teaching other people how to cook, I'm always surprised by what people think cooking entails.
Some people are very mathematical cooks, following the recipes to the letter, measuring precisely. I'll never forget the student who, when I told him he needed 3 tablespoons of flour, ran to his kitchen station, and then ran back to me, breathlessly waving three different tablespoons: "Ms. Levine! I got the 3 tablespoons!"
Some people are inclined to throw caution to the winds while cooking, throwing everything into a bowl, stirring, and then being rudely surprised when it doesn't turn out as expected.
Of course, cooking is both an art and a science, requiring precision and technique as well as creative flair. But above all, it's an endeavor of the heart.
I think a lot about how I learned to cook. The chocolate chip cookie was the first recipe I made over and over again as a kid. Of course, I spent a lot of time making sure I measured everything perfectly. I tried different tools for mixing the dough. I gradually branched out into substituting one ingredient for another, seeing the results. Those were the "training wheels" days. But, I think about what was really going into those cookies, and it was this: My delight at being able to make something I loved. Happiness when my family ate and enjoyed my food. Relief that I was working with my hands, and a familiar relaxation of being surrounded by my kitchen tools. Hope that I would improve this time on my last version. Joy and nourishment. And a kind of repletion of the soul that is specific to perfect food.
When I say perfect food, I mean food made with perfect effort, or perfect love. Your mom's food, made with love, that always tastes the best. A simple egg, cooked perfectly. I think more than anything, cooking taught me to express the real truth of that perfect love. Through cooking, I could make it real. You can't see it. It's not a technique. But it's undeniably there, in the first bite.
This is something that is hard to teach. You can't tell someone what to do to find it. The only thing you can do is put them in the kitchen, over and over again, and see what comes out. Taste the food together and learn.
Cheese is one of the great joys of life, it really is. But some people can't digest cheese. And some people are looking to cut down on fat and calories in their lives. And some people, weird people like me, actually like the taste of non-dairy alternatives. Not all of them, mind you. But if you look carefully and experiment, you might find some non-dairy options that tickle your fancy.
This "cheese" sauce has been a favorite of mine for years. It is one of many variations I've seen online and in cookbooks such as The New Farm Cookbook.
It's easy, quick, full of flavor and vitamins, and healthy. To enjoy it, though, you have to get past the idea that it will taste like Velveeta. It doesn't. I happen to hate Velveeta, so that's a good thing for me. The sauce takes its flavor mainly from nutritional yeast, the miracle food I wrote about here. If you've never tried it, now's the time.
In a medium saucepan, combine: 1/2 c. nutritional yeast, 3 T. flour, 2 c. water, 1 t. salt, 1/2 t. garlic powder, 1/4 t. paprika, 1/3 c. vegetable oil, 1 t. yellow mustard.
Whisk to combine. I know it looks funny at this point. You have to trust.
Heat the mixture over low-medium heat, stirring frequently. As the mixture starts to boil and thicken, whisk a few times more, then remove from the heat.
You can use this sauce in casseroles, on top of pasta or veggies, anywhere you like to use cheese sauce! I've used it on nachos and burritos as well.
Here, I put it on top of a baked potato with broccoli:
Delicious! Try it, and let me know what you think!
I'm a school librarian, cookbook author, and longtime fan of food and literature. Welcome to my blog!