It is this time of the year when some of our smaller eggplants are almost ready to harvest. We didn’t want to use them to make baba ganoush (one of our all-year-round favorite dips). We didn’t have quite enough to make a whole eggplant ‘parmesan dish… what to do? What if we made free-standing stacks? Alternating a layer of eggplant, followed by a slice of tomato or thick tomato sauce (or both) maybe some pesto, some vegan cheese, some spinach. Would it work? Well, it did. You are not building a skyscraper, that would definitely turn into a falling tower of Pisa! The idea is more along the line of a deconstructed and lighter version of eggplant parmesan. One that is more delicate, has fewer calories, cooks faster, and looks beautiful. What’s not to like?
To precook or not to pre-cook the eggplants?
When you make a traditional eggplant parmesan you always fry the eggplant slices in a generous amount of oil and that is one of the reasons why this dish can be heavy. I, for one, try at all costs to stay away from doing that. You can use almost a cup of oil if you are not careful. The fiber of eggplant is similar to a sponge so if you cook it in oil, you will end up with an oily sponge! The good news is that you do not need oil to tenderize slices of eggplant. If you sprinkle the slices with some coarse salt, let them sweat for 15 minutes in a colander to drain the juice, then pat them dry as much as possible then you have 2 choices, if you are in a hurry, you can pan fry the slices in a little water with a teaspoon of oil. Or, you can brush each slice with some olive oil and bake at 350F for 10-15 minutes. The idea is just to soften the slices before you bake the stack. You don’t want them mushy, just lightly softened because you need them to hold the stack. As you can tell from the photo, this eggplant was small in size but it made 4 stacks, so depending on your appetite you can serve 2 hungry people or 4!
What vegan cheese to use?
I love the brand Miyoko’s mozzarella, it is the best I have tasted. I even think that it is better than regular mozzarella because it isn’t so rubbery and it has more flavor too. So I cut little cubes to have an even coverage but you could use other brands you like. This dish being of Italian origin, I wanted to stay within the theme!
For the touch of green, spinach is a perfect choice because it is tender but you can use arugula leaves or any other greens you like.
Side note on breadcrumbs
If you are used to buying seasoned breadcrumbs you may be surprised (as I was when I started to read the ingredients) that many brands contain some form of dairy—like casein, dry milk powder, whey, or some combination. They are also high in sodium. So, one way to get around this (short of making your own from day-old stale bread), is to buy panko. Made entirely from dried crustless white bread and nothing else, it is a healthier (lower in calories, fat, and sodium) and tastier alternative to regular breadcrumbs. Panko breadcrumbs are flakier and absorb less oil. As a result, it is ideal for baking and making light fried food (think tempura).
In this recipe, you mix your favorite dried herbs with a little olive oil in panko breadcrumbs and use that to top your stacks. Be careful to keep an eye on your stacks when they bake because the breadcrumb topping can easily burn (yes like in the picture below!) But don’t worry, you can just flake off the offending crumbs and everything below is perfect. Make sure to line your baking sheet with foil, parchment paper, or better a reusable silicone baking liner because it tends to make a little mess between the tomato sauce and the breadcrumbs!
Like this one. For years we baked using parchment paper, having to cut to size and throw away every time, then one day, we ran out of paper when we needed it! Until we discovered silicone baking liners. What a great invention! They are reusable and washable so you will save money too. Just roll to store.
CAUTION: never use a knife to cut on it. The mat is not a cutting board, it will slice right through it! We have had ours for years and they are still working like the first day!
Check out the Kitchen-Must haves section in our store for more cool gadgets!
We served our stacks along with some roasted asparagus and toasted bread to soak up the tomato sauce! It was perfect!
Easy Eggplant Stacks
- Baking sheet
- 1 medium round eggplant
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 2-3 medium ripe tomatoes
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 5 slices Miyoko's mozzarella
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves
- 1 bunch fresh spinach leaves
- 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp Italian herbs
Prepare the eggplants
- Remove the stem of the eggplant and make slices.
- Place a layer of slices in a colander and sprinkle some coarse salt over.
- Add a second layer and sprinkle more salt. Set aside for 10 minutes.
- Press down on the slices with a paper towel to remove as much liquid as possible.
- In a frying pan, add a few tablespoons of water and a little oil and place a layer of eggplant. Cook on medium heat for a few minutes. Flip each slice. Set aside.
Prepare the filling
- Slice your tomato.
- Heat up the 2 cups of tomato sauce, minced garlic.
- Clean and dry the spinach leaves. You can steam them if you want or use fresh.
- Mince the basil leaves.
- Slice or cube Miyoko's mozzarella cheese and set it aside.
Make the seasoned breadcrumbs
- Pour the 2 cups of panko breadcrumbs into a medium bowl.
- Add the salt, Italian herbs, and stir.
- Drizzle the olive oil and stir again.
Assemble the stacks
- Heat up the oven at 370F.
- On a lined baking sheet, place 5 eggplant slices leaving some space between each slice.
- Top with a slice of tomato, some salt, and garlic.
- Add a slice of eggplant, vegan mozzarella cheese, and spinach leaves.
- Place the last eggplant slice, some tomato sauce, and top with a few tablespoons of the seasoned herb breadcrumbs.
- Bake at 370F for 10-15 minutes. Make sure to check it after 10 minutes because the breadcrumbs can easily burn.
- Pour a little warm tomato sauce on the plate, and place a stack in the middle.
- Add a few fresh basil leaves.