Eggplant is a love or hate kind of vegetable. For me, it’s love. I think what causes these feelings is the unique texture. The best (and maybe worst) way to describe it is being similar to a dense sponge. Because just like a sponge, eggplant absorbs flavor really well. It reminds me a lot of tofu. Neither are great by themselves, but they are easy to flavor, and there are many ways to prepare them and give them character. I would argue that if you don’t like eggplant, it’s just that you haven’t had it flavored or cooked well. When done well, eggplant is tender and almost creamy in nature.
Eggplant is a perfect pairing for tomatoes and other summer vegetables, such as peppers. In the past, I’ve shared recipes for eggplant in ratatouille and eggplant pizza. But one of my favorites is eggplant parmesan. This recipe is essentially a riff on eggplant parm. Eggplant slices are breaded and pan fried in a similar method, but then stacked together with tomato sauce and cheese to make a thick steak of sorts. On the outside, the eggplant is crisp while the insides are soft, with both textures going beautifully with the depth of the quick tomato sauce.
You can use fresh tomatoes to make this sauce, if you have them. Aside from what I canned as crushed tomatoes, my fresh tomato supply is just about up after pulling the plants out of the garden last week. Otherwise, a large can of chopped or crushed tomatoes is fine.
The coating is a bit different than the usual breadcrumbs and cheese, and I think it works. The sunflowers add crunch, while the nutritional yeast boosts the cheese flavor. It’s also a healthier option that doesn’t produce a greasy result. Placing the eggplant on a wire rack after pan frying is the key to keeping the coating crisp.
Serve this with a side of the sauce and vegetables. I had it with rosemary and garlic mashed sweet potatoes. If you prefer to serve with pasta, double the sauce recipe.
For the sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon red pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
28 ounces chopped tomatoes
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
For the eggplant:
2 medium sized eggplant
1 ounce milk
½ cup nutritional yeast
¾ cup sunflower seeds
¼ cup parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Directions: In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the red pepper and garlic and cook for one minute. Stir in the tomato paste and cook this for another minute.
Pour in the tomatoes, salt and vinegar and bring the tomatoes to a simmer, mashing them up a bit with the back of wooden spoon. Let this simmer for at least 15 minutes while you prepare the eggplant. When a sauce-like consistency has formed, then stir in the parsley. Taste and season, if needed.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Thinly slice off the top and bottom of each eggplant, as well as the skin on two of the sides. Make lengthwise slices about ½ inch thick. You should have about 10 total. In a shallow dish, beat together the eggs and milk. In a food processor combine the nutritional yeast, sunflower seeds, parmesan, salt and oregano. Pulse several times until the seeds are chopped small and everything is well combined. This is your breading. Pour this out into a second dish.
Arrange the eggplant, beaten eggs and breading near the stove, as well as a baking sheet with a wire rack set inside of it. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pan. Dip each slice of eggplant into the egg mixture, dripping off any excess, then coat in the breading. Place the piece of coated eggplant in the pan then repeat with as many slices as you can fit at one time. Cook until the bottoms are lightly browned, about three minutes. Flip and cook another three minutes on the other side. Transfer these to the wire rack and repeat the coating and cooking process with the remaining slices. You may need to lower the heat and add some more oil as you go.
When all of the eggplant is browned, spoon some of your sauce onto half of the slices. Top each with some cheese, then a second slice of eggplant to make stacks. Spoon some more sauce over the stacks and the remaining cheese. Place the baking sheet in the oven and cook for 15 minutes. Then switch the oven to the low broil setting. Put the baking sheet under the broiler and cook another five minutes or until the cheese is melted. Serve hot with the remaining sauce.