It seems crazy to call it eggplant parm when there’s no “parm” but the other essentials are all there — fried eggplant, fresh tomato sauce, and creamy “mozzarella.” Let’s be frank — where fried food is involved, and other strong flavors such as tomatoes, nobody’s tasting the parmesan cheese anyway. I feel that the mozzarella is the most important cheese in this recipe, providing the creamy counterpoint to the crunch of the aubergine and the piquancy of the tomato sauce.
Vegan Gourmet’s mozzarella is a particular favorite of mine. In a baked dish like this, it almost doesn’t matter if you use it instead of the real thing. You won’t get those chewy strings of cheese but if you do a good enough job with the other ingredients, you might not miss it.
My tomato sauce was created from a reduction of last summer’s final tomatoes that I seasoned lightly with oregano, sea salt, Italian basil, and thyme and froze. I highly recommend using sauce from fresh tomatoes whenever you can. As I have mentioned before, when that’s not possible, Giorgio Baldi makes a sauce that is the closest I have ever tasted to the real thing. I don’t know how he does it, but he really does.
The controversy rages on about whether or not modern eggplant needs salting, but I found a random post that said the person’s grandmother soaked the slices of eggplant in salt water overnight and drained them before frying, which made them taste less greasy and fry up more crispy. I did that. Even if the eggplant didn’t need it for the bitterness to be leached out, anything that makes it less of a grease sponge is a great idea. I know people who swear by brining poultry (and it does make the meat moister) so I thought of it as “brining” my eggplant. Thanks random grandmother!
The other new tip I picked up online was to dredge the eggplant pieces in flour before the egg wash — followed by bread crumbs.
This was new to me. I usually just do egg wash and then bread crumbs. I believe that adding the flour step caused the breading to be more crunchy and to stick better. I might have imagined it or it might have been due to the over night salt bath!
As any kid who has done science fair will tell you, it’s bad science to change two variables at once…
Dairy-Free Baked Eggplant “Parm”
Can be made vegan by skipping egg wash
1 medium-sized eggplant, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
About 2 cups of flour
About 3 cups of Italian-style breadcrumbs
2 eggs (optional — skip this and it’s vegan!)
6 oz. good vegan mozzarella such as Vegan Gourmet, grated
Salt to taste and for “bathing” the eggplant
Good tomato sauce — about 1 1/2 cups
Lots of olive oil
Slice the eggplant and soak overnight in cold salt water. The next day, drain eggplant and wring out moisture from each slice.
Preheat your oven to 425. (The Vegan Gourmet cheese says “It melts” but it’s not easy to get there.)
Pour your sauce into the bottom of a casserole or deep pie dish.
Heat about 6 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy, no-stick fry pan.
Dredge the eggplant slices in flour, then egg, then crumbs, coating completely.
Once your oil is hot, lay the slices in a single layer and brown — then flip. Drain on paper towels. I had to fry two separate batches but your pan might be bigger than mine. Be careful not to skimp on oil between batches. You want these suckers crunchy!
Place drained, fried eggplant slices on top of sauce in casserole, completely covering the bottom. Layer half your cheese on top. Put another layer of eggplant and cover with the rest of your cheese.
Bake about 25 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbling. Serves two or three people.