Kitchen Hacks: Plant-Based and Meaty Eggplant

 

Although "plant-based and meaty" sounds like an oxymoron, it is actually a great description for eggplant, a delicious vegetable that can stretch the meat in a meal or round off a vegetarian plant-based meal with it's savory flavor and texture that feels "meaty."

There is nothing about an eggplant that reminds me of an egg but this vegetable can be a meaty addition to a plant-based diet.

An eggplant has a beautiful, alluring aesthetic when viewed in a market or store. The colors of this vegetable include a beautiful purple with a velvety, sage green calyx . It is shiny and feels light for its size.

After buying several eggplants for a photography project, I was left with the delicious challenge of what to do with them without spending a ton of time in my kitchen. These days I am working all day here at Food and Health Communications and then riding BART into San Francisco four nights a week for visual art, photography, and graphic design classes at UC Berkeley Extension, so all meals must be fast.

I sliced all the eggplants at once and made some slices into an oven-fried eggplant parmesan by dipping the slices into Greek yogurt and then panko bread crumbs. I sprayed them with oil and pan-fried them on one side, turned them over and then baked them in the oven for 20 minutes. I served them with marinara sauce, spaghetti, and roasted cauliflower. The spaghetti and cauliflower were leftover. Instead of stacking the eggplant into a casserole I served it hot on top of hot marinara sauce. Pardon the iPhone photo but I was almost late to class and had to hurry. The remainder of the slices were wrapped until the next day and they kept very well in the refrigerator.

The next day, some of the slices were grilled and served  on a salad. In summer I use the BBQ grill and in winter I use an electric grill designed for making pannini. Here is an older photo that shows the outdoor grilling process.

On the third day, I found a way to use the last of my slices of eggplant to stuff a chicken breast so that you can make one chicken breast into a meal for 2 people. Or 2 meals for one person.

I sliced the chicken breast in half horizontally so as to create a pocket. I stuffed each chicken breast in the center with a slice of eggplant, fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced red onions, and a very small sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese. I found a seasoning mix called guacamole and sprinkled it on top and the herbs and peppers in it rounded out the dish nicely. These stuffed chicken breasts only took about 30 minutes to bake. Chicken is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F and it is no longer pink.

Once the stuffed chicken breasts were done, I sliced them on the bias and one breast was more than enough to feed 2 people. I served that on the leftover marinara sauce and it was delicious. The eggplant gave the chicken a moist savory flavor. I could see a vegan version of this idea where you could sandwich eggplant slices with tomatoes, onions, and herbs and then bake it like a chicken breast.

One more note about my experience with eggplant refers to the use of salt and how I put that step on the "don't do it list." Most classical recipes will tel you to peel it and soak it in salt water. I find that to be unnecessarily laborious and I never come across an eggplant that is so bitter that it would need salt and I can't imagine how salt would take away a bitter flavor. So I skip that step.

My eggplant slices are all used up for now but more ideas I had were to to chop the eggplant, roast it in the toaster oven and then use it in dips (baba ganoush) or salads. I think it would go well over pizza or in vegetarian pasta dishes. It definitely adds a savory meaty texture to a meal.

I hope this blog post will inspire you to choose an eggplant the next time you spy its purple gorgeousness on your grocery store's produce stand or in a farmer's market.

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