Healthy Eggplant Parmesan with Vegan Option
The Everyday Gourmet By Andrea Maunder Iâve always figured when the fast food places adopt a food trend, you know itâs hit mainstream. It means theyâve done their research and determined thereâs enough demand for it to be worth investing all the resources into changing menus, marketing, advertising, distribution and training. Thatâs a big commitment for international chains, isnât it? So when I see more vegetarian and vegan options in restaurants and bakeries now, I think itâs fair to say the movement towards more plant-based eating has become part of the collective consciousness.Folks have their reasons for leaning towards a plant-based diet, from personal health to their love of animals to planetary and environmental concerns. Whatever your reason - you donât really need one - including more plant-based meals in your diet is a good thing. They taste delicious, are generally more affordable than meat and pack loads of nutrition.Whether you are new to veggie meals or regularly enjoy them, I have a recipe that delivers all the satisfaction, flavour and textures we crave. And this Eggplant Parmesan is lighter than the traditional recipes: I donât fry the eggplant, but do a double-bake process, which makes it crispier and with a fresher texture. Itâs very lightly sauced to help retain some of that gorgeous crispy crumb texture. I will offer you the option to make this dish completely plant-based, or use dairy cheese, as you wish. I admire the dedication of my vegan friends but I am a cheese lover, so I do put it in this dish when I make it. And for those who need or desire gluten-free, this can easily be made gluten-free by whizzing leftover gluten-free bread in the food processor for the crumbs and swapping gluten-free panko.I adore eggplant, and its satisfying texture works really well in this dish. But if youâre not a fan, you can certainly substitute zucchini and just follow the same directions.This recipe serves eight, so you could have lots leftover to freeze in individual portions, for quick, delicious meals on the go. MAKE IT : Eggplant Parmesan serves 8 3 large eggplants, about 5 lbs total (if smaller or baby eggplants, buy weight equivalent) Up to 2 tbsp kosher salt Up to 4 cups breadcrumbs 1 cup panko breadcrumbs 4 tsp dried basil 2 tsp dried oregano 2 tsp garlic powder 1 tsp onion powder 1 tsp fresh pepper 1 tsp kosher salt 1/2 tsp chili flakes (or more to taste) Up to 3/4 cup olive oil 1 bunch fresh basil, leaves and tender stems only (about 1Â½ cups loosely packed) 3-4 cloves garlic 2 tbsp pine nuts or sliced almonds (opt.) salt and pepper to taste 2 cups Parmesan cheese (or vegan cheese shreds such as Daiya mixed with 4 tsp nutritional yeast and 1 tsp kosher salt) 2 cups shredded mozzarella (or vegan cheese substitute such as Daiya) Approximately 3 cups tomato sauce Preheat oven to 400Â°F.Remove and discard stems and slice eggplants longwise 1/2-inch thick (skin on or off, your choice). Sprinkle each slice lightly with kosher salt on both sides and set in a colander in the sink for 10-15 minutes while you prepare the breadcrumbs and pesto. This softens the eggplant and removes any bitterness. Rinse, drain and pat dry with a tea towel.Prepare breadcrumbs: Combine breadcrumbs, panko, 1/4 cup olive oil, dry herbs and spices, salt and pepper. Stir in one cup of the Parmesan (or vegan cheese mixture). Set aside.Make pesto: In food processor or mini chopper, whiz together fresh garlic with 1/4 cup of the olive oil; add basil and purÃ©e until combined. If using nuts, add now and whiz again until purÃ©ed. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add more oil or a little water if needed to get it to blend. You want a spreadable paste consistency.Line a very large baking pan (or two if needed) with foil and brush with oil. Brush patted-dry eggplant slices lightly on both sides with pesto and coat each side with breadcrumbs. Press down so the breadcrumbs adhere. (If you donât use all the crumbs, freeze the remainder for later use. Great coating for almost anything.) Lay slices on baking tray(s) and bake for 20 minutes, flipping them over after 10 minutes. They will be golden brown, crusty and fragrant.Reduce oven temperature to 350Â°F.Brush a large lasagna pan with olive oil and spread a very thin coat of tomato sauce on the bottom - just 5-6 tbsp or so. Arrange slices of eggplant to cover the bottom. Cut pieces to fit, if needed, to make an even layer. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the remaining cup of Parmesan (or vegan parm mixture), drizzle tomato sauce over top but donât smother the slices entirely. Then sprinkle on 1/3 of the mozzarella (or vegan shreds). Add another drizzle of sauce. Repeat two more layers and be a touch more generous with the sauce on the last layer so that it doesnât dry out in the oven. End with the mozzarella on top of the last layer.Bake 45 minutes until bubbling. Let stand a couple minutes before serving. Makes 8 good-sized portions. Another delicious meal with any leftovers is Eggplant Parm Sandwiches! Split and toast a large crusty roll, spread a little tomato sauce on both sides, place some eggplant parm in the middle and add slice of mozza, provolone or vegan slice, if you like. I like it hot or cold. For hot, simply microwave the eggplant parm first.