Friday, January 31, 2020

Foodie Friday ~ Another Vegetarian Idea: Eggplant Parmesan

Since my kids were really tiny, I have had a "meatless night". I never really assigned it to a specific night but it was usually smack-dab in the middle of all of the carnivore-ness. What can I say? My kidlets love their meat (not a treat for those of us who don't like touching, smelling or feeling it). It hasn't been a huge struggle on these nights. I mean, I won't lie to you; they won't dive right in with the same enthusiasm when something is veg-based rather than meat-based. But in all fairness, they give things a try so that's awesome. Plus if you slather stuff in cheesy goodness, there is a higher chance of consumption.

Now, let's talk about eggplant for a second here. First, it is a fantastic ingredient in that it's like a sponge for flavor. It's also a great source of vitamins (especially A, C and K) as well as fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate, and protein (all of which are extremely important for those with severe liver disease or living with cancer). The only element with eggplant that may be difficult to sell it to kids (especially those with sensory issues) is that the texture isn't all that desirable when it's cooked down. If not cooked properly, it tends to go on the mushy side and, honestly, I'm not a huge fan of mushier textures either.

That being said, there are a few ways you can cook it that help to steer away from the mushiness. These veggies can be roasted, pureed into a dip or even fried up like chips. But the recipe that went off the best around here is turning it into an eggplant parmesan. This was a bit easier to sell as one of the top favorites around here is the chicken version so the flavors are the same. And you can get a kid to eat almost anything that's covered in cheese.

Here's a couple of tips before I get to the recipe: Similar to potatoes, a lot of the nutrition is in the peel but I like to remove it. The end result will pretty much be the same but sometimes the peel just doesn't cook as well. Also, you don't need to fry the eggplant initially. It can be oven-baked. Martha Stewart has a non-fry version out there somewhere. But, again? The crunchier texture tends to help with getting more bites into the young ones. Other than that? You can use whatever cheese suits you - regular or vegan - and you can add additional ingredients like olives, mushrooms, etc. or as is.

If you give this one a shot, let me know. It's a bit of work but so worth it.

Happy cooking!

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Eggplant Parmesan

~ 1 or 2 eggplants, depending on size and amount of people to serve
~ Either jarred or homemade pasta sauce (amount depends on number of eggplant slices)
~ 2 eggs
~ splash of milk
~ 1 cup or so of flour
~ 1 cup of cornmeal or Panko crumbs
~ a pinch or more of chili flakes, oregano, onion powder, garlic powder, parsley, salt and pepper
(You can create your own spice blend here. This is what my kids liked.)
~ a whole whack of shredded cheese (I don't usually measure this part. Use the amount right for you.)
~ parmesan (either fresh shredded or the prepped stuff)
~ vegetable oil, or some other high smoke point oil that is veg based
~ flakey salt, optional

1.Preheat oven to 350* and grease up a baking dish (size of dish depends on the number of eggplant slices). Cut ends off the eggplant, then peel.
2. Cut into 1/4 inch slices. Have three separate bowls or dishes lined up: one is for the flour, the middle one is for the eggs and milk and the last one is for the cornmeal/Panko and the spices. At this point, make sure you've heated up your pan to medium heat and added enough of your oil to the warm pan where the eggplant slices will have a good fry but aren't submerged in the oil.
3. Pull the pan from the heat momentarily (this is more of an oil-splash avoidance step). Using one hand, and keeping the other goo-free, take an eggplant slice, dredge in the flour (shaking off excess), dip into the egg/milk mixture then coat with the cornstarch mixture and place in the pan. Repeat until your pan has about 4 or 5 slices in it. Don't overcrowd.
4. Fry each side for no longer than 3 minutes, then place on a paper towel-lined plate or baking sheet to cool. Sprinkle flaky salt on each slice. Continue until all slices are done.
(A tip I learned the hard way: Spread the cooling slices in one layer across the lined plate. Piling them on top of each other to cool can cause them to become mushy, thus defeating the purpose of the fry-step.)
5. Spread a few spoonfuls of the sauce in the bottom of the baking dish then add a handful or so of cheese over top. Line up as many eggplant slices that will fit in the baking dish without overlapping. Cover the slices with enough sauce that they are all covered, then toss over more cheese. Before putting into the oven, sprinkle with parmesan and bake for about 15 - 20 minutes or until the cheese is brown and bubbly.

Let cool for about 5 - 10 minutes before scooping some up. Some nice bread and a simple green salad will complement this dish wonderfully.

We use any leftover slices to make little sliders or sandwiches. Better than it sounds, trust me.

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