Pan-Fried Italian Eggplant

I bought a small Long Island eggplant last week for a buck last week, figuring I was going to make Baingan Bharta, but I’ve actually been cooking a lot of Indian and Thai lately so I was a bit tapped out on spicy food. I sort of wanted to make Eggplant Parmesan, but I don’t have a baking dish yet, so I opted to just fry it in slices and then top with tomato sauce. It wasn’t very fancy, but it was just delicious, particularly the slices that weren’t cut too thick or too thin. Since the recipe was somewhat ad-hoc, I didn’t take pictures along the way this time, but I don’t suppose those really helped with anything other than my desire to have a colorful blog anyway. Bear in mind the quantities are approximate, since I didn’t measure as I went along and am “sizing up” to 4 people. Also bear in mind that the ingredients were chosen purely using the famous gastronomical principle of “let’s see, what do I have here in my meager pantry…”

Cook Time 30 Minutes, serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 small eggplants (or probably one large one)
  • 3/4 cup of fresh breadcrumbs or dried equivalent (meaning I crumbled up half a piece of toasted bread per serving, and it came out about like this :-P )
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup crushed almonds (I mostly threw these in because I was a little short on breadcrumbs and have some extra almonds to get rid of, but I was really glad I did in the end. Crushed walnuts would have been alright too.)
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (to taste; mine are cheap and not particularly spicy)
  • 1 1/2 tsp powdered vegetable broth
  • 1-2 eggs (start with one, be prepared to pull out another)
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (maybe)
  • tomato sauce as desired

The only “fancy” part was the eggplant, and that, too, was quite cheap. You could probably also take a huge shortcut by using seasoned breadcrumbs instead of making your own, or of course you should add whatever flavors you like best if you’re not limited by the variety in your kitchen.

Directions

1) Slice the eggplant into slabs about 1/4 of an inch thick (a little thinner if you don’t like the texture of eggplant and want the outcome to be soft, thicker if you really like the flavor and want it to dominate). You will have some awkward small slices left from the ends but you can fry those too if you just remove a bit of the peel on the back.

2) If you’re worried about bitterness in the eggplant, you should either cut out the parts where the seeds are densest, or salt the pieces to draw out the bitter juices, let them sit in a collander for about 20 minutes, and then rinse them. To be honest, though, as much as I’ve always enjoyed feeling like a fancy chef when I labor over preparing the perfect eggplant, the  times I’ve omitted it I haven’t noticed a difference. My guess is that these days they’re engineered to be pretty fine “as is,” and it’s just that our parents keep passing down these fancy instructions.

3) combine breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, almonds, minced garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, and vegetable broth powder and mix together well. If you happen to think that vegetable broth powder is a dumb way to season breadcrumbs, I agree with you, but didn’t have much else. I mostly wanted the flavor of onion salt, but ultimately I found the hints of carrot and turmeric were really good too. Dried chives would also have been a nice addition, I think.

4) Beat egg in small bowl, season with a pinch of salt and black pepper I’m pretty sensitive to salty flavors so I used maybe 1/8 tsp in making two servings.

5) One at a time, dip the eggplant slices in the egg mixture on both sides (like you were making french toast) and then coat in breadcrumb mixture. I found the easiest way to do this was just to spread the crumbs on a baking sheet and press the eggplant down into them, first one side, then the other. Don’t worry if the eggplant has browned a bit by now, it’s just natural oxidation and won’t affect the flavor.

6) Heat the oil in a large saucepan and pan-fry the eggplant slices until brown (took me about 3-5 minutes a side over medium heat). Actually, I didn’t use the oil myself, and it still worked just fine. I have two new, nonstick saucepans and both are wonderful, except they’re so nonstick that I can’t get the oil to spread out across the bottom of the pan, and the burners on my stove are perpetually uneven, so the oil just pools at the back of the pan where it’s no use to anyone. But between the cheese and the egg, they seemed to cook just fine.

6) Cover with tomato sauce as desired, and grate a little extra parmesan cheese on top for good measure.

Like I said, it wasn’t hard to do on short notice, and could be easily adapted to whatever you happen to have in stock. All you need it the eggplant.

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About Colin West
Colin West is a graduate student in quantum information theory, working at the Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics at Stony Brook University. Originally from Colorado (where he attended college), his interests outside of physics include politics, paper-folding, puzzles, playing-cards, and apparently, plosives.

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