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.
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!
Ratatouille is a fantastically simple dish. At its best, it is just tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants, and bell peppers cooked to perfection in olive oil. It is traditionally served with French bread, but here I made it with polenta, which is Italian corn meal mush.
I started with these ingredients:
I used one medium eggplant, 2 zucchinis, a can of tomatoes, Italian herb seasoning, garlic, and bay leaves. I didn't have any bell peppers, but you could definitely add one. Fresh tomatoes are also a nice touch in place of the canned ones.
This version is my "quick" version of ratatouille, so I'm making it all in one pot (preferably use a ceramic coated cast iron pot, if you have one). If I had more time, I might roast the eggplant separately in the oven before adding it to the stew. But this way works well too!
Into the pot, I put about 1/2 cup of olive oil. No, this is not a low fat dish. But olive oil is healthy! Heat to medium high and add the eggplant and zucchini. Saute for 5-8 minutes, until the eggplant starts to soften:
At this point, go ahead and add 1 t. Italian seasoning, 1 t. garlic powder, and about 1/2 t. salt.
Cooking eggplant always takes longer than I expect. It has a spongy texture that takes a while to soften. If you use the smaller, lighter purple Japanese eggplants, they will cook more quickly.
Now add your can of tomatoes and 1 bay leaf. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cover and turn the heat down. This will need to simmer on medium low for about 20 minutes. You will know it's done when the eggplant is as soft as butter:
There we go! You can check your salt levels at this point and add more if needed.
In the meantime, you can cook your polenta. It only takes a few minutes. I had the "quick cooking" kind, which is even faster. I cooked it according to package instructions, 1 cup polenta with 2 1/4 c. water.
If you've never tried polenta, it's a great alternative to pasta for all your Italian cooking needs! Put any kind of sauces or proteins on top you like, and voila! A tasty gluten free dinner. It's also great the next day! Once it's cold, you can slice it and fry the slices in olive oil. Yum.
Anyway, back to the ratatouille. To serve, I just put a small serving of polenta in the bottom of the bowl, ratatouille on top, and a bit of Parmesan cheese.
I know I'm totally mashing together a French classic and Italian food here, but hey, it tasted great. Let me know if you try this!
Due to the immense popularity of my Breakfast of Champions post, I wanted to post a quick update. This is just another version of the scrumptious breakfast I am still eating pretty regularly! Here it is!
So I've been having a thing with zucchini this summer. I just love it so much. Here at the tail end of summer, there is still a lot of zucchini around in gardens and stores. So, here is one of my zucchini inventions!
Now, some people have a special machine that turns zucchini into "noodles." I don't have one of those things. It's partly philosophical: why spend money on a gadget when a knife will do the trick? And it's partly financial: I don't want to spend money on a zucchini pasta maker. If you have one of those things, I'm not criticizing you, however. I'm secretly a teensy bit jealous.
Anyhoo, you can make this dish with a zucchini pasta-maker thingie, or with a knife.
So, first, you gotta julienne that zucchini. Step one:
Cut your zucchini in half, then make 1/4 inch thick slices out of each half. Step two:
Make matchsticks by cutting each slice of zucchini lengthwise. Now, you can cut each slice, but to save time, I make little stacks of the slices, and then cut them into the matchsticks. The whole process takes 2 minutes, I promise. Much less time then digging out your zucchini cutter gadget anyway...
The other players: Italian herbs (basil, oregano, marjoram, savory, thyme, sage, rosemary), garlic, olive oil, kalamata olives, and parmesan cheese. You could omit the cheese if you're going for vegan here.
Now, I know this recipe is sorta Italian and sorta Greek. Let's think of it as Mediterranean. You could easily use feta cheese instead of parmesan here. Or put any other kinds of olives you like. This is what I had, so this is what I used!
In a medium skillet, heat 2 T. of the olive oil over medium high heat. Let it get nice and hot. Add the zucchini, 2 t. of the Italian herbs, and 1/2 t. of garlic powder.
Saute that for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. While you saute, go ahead and rough chop one large tomato. Cut a lemon in half while you're at it.
When the edges of the zucchini start to turn brown, add the tomato, 1/2 c. of the olives, and squeeze half the lemon in there:
Saute for 2-3 minutes more, just until the tomatoes get soft, but not until they are falling apart. I like the zucchini to not be mushy; it should still be slightly firm. You can add a dash of salt here, but the olives are pretty salty, and the parmesan also adds salt at the end, so I chose not to salt at this point.
And serve with parmesan cheese! (Sorry for my weird thumb on the side of this pic!) This made a lovely, light summer dinner for me. You could always serve it as a side dish with some baked chicken or fish as well. Enjoy, and let me know if you try this!
So, who doesn't love a good veggie burger? Am I right?
Morningstar Farms makes a wide range of vegetarian "meatless meat" products, most of them soy based. I think of these products as a kind of vegetarian fast food. It's quick and easy, but also pretty processed. This burger was a new addition to their lineup, and I decided to give it a whirl.
Here's what I think their concept was: Some vegetarians don't actually want to eat a veggie burger that tastes like meat. Some of their meatless substitutes are eerily close in flavor to actual meat. Here, I think Morningstar wanted to create a burger that tasted more like grains and veggies. Which is a great idea.
There are also a number of vegetarians who, for a lot of reasons, are trying to avoid soy products. Some don't digest them well. Others believe that too much soy leads to certain health problems, which is a debate you can read about if you care to Google it. Morningstar products are heavily soy-based, and I think they created this burger partially so it wouldn't seem like a patty o' soy.
BUT. This product contains a lot of soy protein. Second on the ingredients list is organic textured soy protein. So, in a way I feel like this product is misleading, pretending to be a quinoa burger when in reality it has a lot of soy.
Otherwise, nutritionally, it's pretty good. It has 130 calories, 7 grams of protein, and 8 grams of fat.
Now, on to the taste test. Here is my serving suggestion:
Yes, that bottom layer is an Ezekiel English muffin. Just love that Ezekiel stuff. Then I put tomato, veggie burger, and avocado on top.
The flavor was pretty decent; I could taste both the quinoa and the garlic, and there wasn't a "fake meat" feel to it. There was also a strong lentil flavor, which I liked, but I was surprised that nothing on the front of the package mentioned lentils. It had a mild "Southwest" taste to it. Next time, I'd add some Jack cheese or salsa on top, I think.
Flavor: 8 out of 10
Nutrition: 7 out of 10 (for hidden soy ingredients)
The bottom line: Good for a quick meal, but I wouldn't want to live off of them. Probably still better for you than McDonald's! Those avoiding soy will want to avoid this one.
Let me know if you try these!
I'm a school librarian, cookbook author, and longtime fan of food and literature. Welcome to my blog!