Eggplant & tomato bake


Eggplants are funny vegetables— lovely color, delicate flavor, but if cooked wrong, they’re pretty tasteless and horrible. And badly cooked eggplant has actually ended two dates I’ve been on. One was years ago, when a fellow came over to my place, ignored my gentle suggestions for food I do like, and made this big deal of preparing this elaborate eggplant dish. But the vegetable was sadly undercooked, all spongy and bitter. I choked it down, to save his feelings, but that was our last date.

I’ve also been subjected to microwaved eggplant. (I know! Why would anyone do that? On purpose?) That eggplant was like gnawing on kitchen sponges. That guy also tried to feed me microwaved sardines that night, forgetting that fish ain’t a vegetable. Nope, nope nope!

Summertime is when gardens overflow, and my friends, family and co-workers’ excess veggies sometimes spill into my kitchen. Which is absolutely wonderful— and also perplexing: what does one do with a pile of eggplants? You could try making eggplant parmesan, which can be delicious— some friends of mine threw a dinner party, with gluten-free eggplant parmesan— and man, was that tasty. Crunchy on the outside, almost melty on the inside, the delicate flavor of the vegetable coming through.

A friend's gluten-free eggplant parm.
A friend’s gluten-free eggplant parm.

But eggplant parmesan is seriously time consuming— also, it’s fried, so it’s not that good for you, So, here is a recipe from a good family friend, one that has often been brought (to everyone’s delight) to family get-togethers. This is my all time favorite eggplant dish— it brings out the flavor of the vegetables, and the texture is perfect. Also, it passes the “healthy” and “not a huge undertaking” test.

Usually, I soak my eggplant in salt and fry them (a technique I picked up at the Turkish cultural center in Troy) but in this recipe, you just saute them a little. That way, the strongest flavor of the eggplant is muted, the texture is improved, but you’re avoiding out-and-out deep frying it.

The ingredient list isn’t exact, but you will need:

2-3 medium sized eggplants (or as many as you have!)

2 cups uncut tomatoes (or one can of diced tomatoes)

1/2 cup cheese (can be dairy or vegan; Daiya cheese bakes well)

1/2 onion (optional)

olive oil

salt and pepper

seasonings, fresh or dried

1. Peel the eggplant and slice it width-wise.

2. Saute the eggplant with diced onions, olive oil, salt and pepper.

3. While the eggplant is cooking, slice your tomatoes.

4. When the eggplant is lightly cooked (a little darker in color) take it off the heat, and drain the oil on paper towels.

5. Start making layers: a layer of tomato and any seasonings you want…

The first layer.
The first layer.

… then a layer of eggplant, then a sprinkle of cheese. The layers don’t need to be hugely thick; the idea is to use the vegetables you have on hand. Also, since we’re trying to keep this recipe healthy, don’t go crazy with the cheese.

Tomatoes, eggplant, cheese.
Tomatoes, eggplant, cheese.

6. Repeat the layers (tomato and seasoning, eggplant, and cheese sprinkle) until you run out of vegetables.

7. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes— or until the vegetables are cooked, and the cheese is nice and melty.

This is best eaten hot— so you can invite your friends over, and share the recipe!

The finished product.
The finished product.

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