This is a hearty dish so make sure that you are feeling up to a challenge. Traditional eggplant parmesan is also one of the most satisfying vegetarian dishes for the recent transition-er to a meat free life. While it might be tasty, it is still packed with lots and lots of animal fats and eggs. Enter veganization!
Although we won’t nix the frying of the eggplant, this vegan alternative doesn’t have any cholesterol and is much, much lower in saturated fats. When all those unhealthy and unnecessary ingredients gone, the flavors of summer can really shine.
This dish is also perfectly in season. Eggplant and tomatoes, the backbone of the meal, are growing rampantly in California. Since I’m a bit lazy, I don’t peel tomatoes and so organics are not only a good idea, but are really essential for this meal. However, don’t get too lazy and use canned tomatoes. There was a recent article about the 7 foods that farmers and food researchers would never eat and canned tomatoes topped the list. Bad news bears, especially when it is fresh tomato season!
I encourage the use of organic, local, and responsibly produced food, but everyone’s financial and accessibility situations are different. Unfortunately, that translates to less food empowerment for everyone. Check out the Real Food Challenge campaign to help end this injustice.
Enough of the toxic tomatoes and cholesterol chatter – let’s get to the recipe:
Here’s what you will need
For the fried eggplant:
I large to medium eggplant (1-2 pounds)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup whole wheat (or a gluten free alternative like sorghum flour)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¼ cup medium ground corn meal
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 cup water, ice cold
Enough grapeseed or rapeseed (canola) oil to cover the bottom of a cast iron frying pan with a ½ inch of oil
For the marinara:
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup onion, diced
½ teaspoon salt
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small sweet pepper like Jimmy Nardellos, Bullhorn or Gypsy (Jimmies are my favorite), chopped
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
½ cup red wine
2 tablespoons brown rice, agave syrup, maple syrup, or honey (if you are that sort of vegan) or 1 tablespoon raw sugar or ½ cup apple juice
5 large tomatoes
¼ cup nutritional yeast
¼ cup fresh basil, sliced thinly using the chiffonade method
½ cup sliced or shredded dairy free cheese (my favorite is made from rice milk which doesn’t have the “dirty” after taste like many soy cheeses, optional)
9×9 square glass or ceramic baking dish (metals can react with the tomatoes)
Large sauce pan or enameled Dutch oven
Stick or stand blender (optional)
Small bowl, with a bottom large enough to accommodate your largest eggplant slice
Cast Iron frying pan (I prefer cast iron over synthetic Teflon any day. Not only are cast iron pretty cheap, I got my 12” at a thrift store for $10, they will last FOREVER. Not so much with Teflon, which releases toxins and seriously degrade with overheating.)
Paper towel or metal drying rack
1. Wash and peel the eggplant using a vegetable peeler.
2. Slice into 1 inch thick rounds
3. Using the 1 teaspoon salt, salt the rounds of eggplant. Use your fingers to distribute the salt evenly.
4. Place slices in the baking dish and put the frying pan on top of the slices. The weight of the pan will help removing the excess moisture from the eggplant.
5. While the eggplant is salting, begin on the marinara.
6. Heat your saucepan or Dutch oven over medium high heat and add the olive oil
7. Sauté the onions and salt until soft and golden brown.
8. Add in the crushed garlic, sweet pepper, cayenne pepper, and fennel. When I am using a garlic press, I don’t bother peeling the garlic. Make sure to remove the peels before crushing the next clove. Sauté until the sweet peppers are soft. Feel free to add more oil to the pan if needed. The vegetables should look shiny and glistening.
9. Add the wine and the sweetener of your choice. Reduce until the sauce resembles salsa instead of soup.
10. Remove the stem site from the tomatoes and cut into large, rough chunks. Add to the pan and stir.
11. While the sauce is getting saucy with the pan turned down to medium low heat, begin frying the eggplant.
12. Preheat oven to 375F. When I am using the oven for just one dish, I try to maximize my oven space. I suggest baking potatoes or winter squash in the fall to fill up that underutilized space.
13. Using your hands, squeeze out any excess water from the eggplant over the sink.
14. Measure the dry ingredients for the frying batter into the small bowl (flour, cornstarch, cornmeal, ¼ teaspoon salt, black pepper) and mix using a fork.
15. Heat the frying pan over medium high heat with the oil.
16. With wet fingertips, flick water above the pan to test its heat. Oil that is hot enough should readily crackle.
17. Just before you begin frying, add in the ice cold water. Mix as little as possible while still eliminating lumps and dry spots.
18. Dip eggplant slices one by one into the batter and then gently place in the pan. Turn when slices are golden brown.
19. If your pan is not large enough to accommodate all the slices, you might need to do several rounds of this.
20. Remove slices from the pan when both sides are golden brown and place on the paper towels or the metal rack to drain off some oil. Ideally, the eggplant will be crispy on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. If the slices are still underdone, more cooking can take place in the oven.
21. Back to the sauce – Since I like being lazy and don’t peel the tomatoes, I blend the sauce at the end to make it smooth and the skin bits less obvious. This step is completely optional. Let the sauce cool to less than scalding and either blend in a upright blender until smooth or leave in the pot and use a stick blender until smooth.
22. Return the sauce to the pan and stir in the yeast and the basil.
23. Place the eggplant slices in the 9X9 pan and cover with marinara. Top with fake cheese if desired. Bake at 375F for 20 minutes or until the eggplants are soft and creamy.
24. Enjoy with fellow activists.
Tremendous thanks to Rachel Silverstein for the beautiful and witty cartoons and for test driving the recipe.