Last month, when it was minus thirty outside and it felt like winter would never, ever end, I went grocery shopping and saw in the produce aisle asparagus on sale. Signs of spring! My husband grew up in a place where asparagus grew wild and to him, springtime was ushered in by the sight of asparagus poking through the soil. I'm happy enough to see it in the produce section.
For me, seeing asparagus on sale in the grocery store is like seeing those first few leaf buds on the trees or witnessing my brave and hardy daylilies pushing through the soil. It might not feel like spring outside, but seeing those beautiful green stalks of asparagus for non-outrageous prices means that it is spring somewhere. I immediately brightened, despite the frigid cold weather and piles of ice and snow everywhere.
This recipe is a true taste of spring, enhanced by the sunshiny lemon flavour and the incomparable taste of the Parmesan. It's a perfect side dish that makes me think even more fondly of spring.
“You know I really don’t like eggplant, right?” my husband said to me as I sliced the beautiful purple vegetable into rounds. I just smiled and continued slicing, because I had a feeling that this time would be different.
There are numerous articles written by numerous experts with regards to getting children to eat their vegetables, but I have a very simple answer: make vegetables delicious and appealing.
Some vegetables are tastiest eaten fresh and raw, like cherry tomatoes or red peppers, some benefit from roasting, like cauliflower or asparagus, and yet others, like eggplant, need a little more effort to make them palatable. Look at the eggplant in its raw glory: it’s a thing of beauty, really, so glossy and purple, with a shape like a friendly cartoon character. And like many things of beauty, it needs a little help to develop its personality, so to speak. It cannot get by on good looks alone. Like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, it just needs a little love.
This is a recipe that utilizes a few strategies to make eggplant appealing to kids — and reticent husbands.
Strategy one: Sweat it and forget it. Make sure you salt the eggplant before cooking and allow it to “sweat” all the bitterness out.
Strategy two: Don’t undercook the eggplant. Undercooked eggplant is strangely spongy in texture.
Strategy three: Smother it in cheese.
Perhaps you’ve admired the beauty of the eggplant in the produce section but weren’t sure how to prepare it. Perhaps you — like my husband — think you don’t like eggplant at all. Or perhaps you do love eggplant and are merely in need of recipe inspiration. In any case, this eggplant dish is lasagna-like in flavour and feel: delicious and full of cheesy goodness.
My husband ended up eating two helpings.
For those meat lovers who really, truly don’t like eggplant, I’ve included a chicken variation at the end of this recipe. It's the Con Carne to my Meatless Mummy identity.
In a large saucepan, sauté garlic in olive oil until garlic is brown and fragrant. Add crushed tomatoes and diced stewed tomatoes. Sprinkle with baking soda and stir; mixture will foam up. When the foaming subsides, stir in Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste. Allow to simmer until needed. (Make ahead: sauce can be made the day before and refrigerated until needed.)
On a flat surface, sprinkle eggplant slices with salt and allow to “sweat” for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a shallow dish, stir together bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and garlic powder.
Wipe away the “sweat” from the eggplant. In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Dip eggplant slices in the fork-beaten eggs, then into the bread crumb/Parmesan mixture. Press the mixture firmly onto the eggplant so that it sticks. Arrange eggplant slices on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake for 30 minutes, flipping eggplant slices halfway through.
Spoon a cup of the tomato marinara sauce evenly on the bottom of a 9x13 baking pan and arrange half the eggplant slices over top. Cover with another cup of sauce, and arrange half the basil leaves on top. Sprinkle with half the Italiano shredded cheese. Repeat layers with the remaining eggplant, sauce, basil, and cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbling.
Serve with Herb and Garlic Cheese Bread and Caesar salad for the ultimate dinner experience!
Chicken Variation: Instead of eggplant slices, dip slices of chicken breast in egg, then dredge in the bread crumb/Parmesan mixture. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until the insides are no longer pink and the juices run clear. Layer in the baking dish as you would for the eggplant, alternating with sauce, basil, and cheese, and bake for 20 minutes.
Yield: 6-8 servings
Melted. Grated. Shaved. Baked. No matter what you do with cheese, it makes everything taste better.
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Sometimes, amazing things—like penicillin, Viagra, potato chips, and the microwave—are created entirely by accident. As everyone's favourite fuzzy-haired painter, Bob Ross, says, "There are no mistakes, only happy accidents." That may or may not be a completely true statement, but this dish, full of gorgeous roasted vegetables and zestiness, was created by accident, and it was indeed a happy one.
One afternoon, I was preparing to stir up some lemon juice and tahini, with the intention to make my favourite kale chips, when I discovered that I was actually out of kale. Disaster! But I did have a lot of other vegetables in the crisper that were just on the cusp of becoming past their prime, and so I chopped them up, threw them in the oven, and then mixed them together with some brown rice and the most addictive lemon tahini dressing I could create. It was so delicious, so accidentally wonderful, that I became a little bit obsessed with making it. I'd make it every day if I could.
This salad is full of energy and goodness! It's creamy, zesty, and vegan, and it is wonderful served warm or cold. I will frequently double this recipe just to eat the cold leftovers at lunchtime. It may not be a discovery on par with penicillin, but to me, it is just as addictive as potato chips.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Prepare rice as per package directions.
In a food processor, blender, or small bowl with whisk, combine tahini, lemon juice, garlic powder, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and water. Process or mix well until very smooth.
Place vegetables in a large bowl and drizzle with 3 tablespoons olive oil. Using your hands, massage oil onto the vegetables until they are all coated. Spread vegetables in a single layer on one large or two smaller baking sheets. Season with salt and pepper.
Roast vegetables in oven for 20 minutes. Add roasted vegetables to the cooked rice, and toss with the lemon tahini dressing.
Tip: this is also delicious served cold.
It's so easy to whip this up—watch me make Lemon Tahini Dressing.