(and Heavenly Eggplant Casserole — the Easiest Casserole on Earth)
I have always loved the lustrous deep purple and curvaceous roundness of the eggplant– so beautiful to look at, always a stand-out in a still life painting. They are fun to grow in the garden, watching their purple plumpness grow day after day until the mother plant is bending low. And of course they have a marvelous color variation ranging from midnight purple to light lavender to purest white (the white eggplant could pass for an ostrich egg and is probably the namesake).
But until recently I have never enjoyed eating eggplant. Even in restaurants I thought it had a strange bitterness and an odd texture that easily turned to mush if overcooked. Eggplant parmesan seemed to me just a way to nominally use eggplant but to cover it up completely with other overwhelming flavors. Why bother?
Even so, I would dabble every so often with trying to make an edible eggplant recipe. But It seemed no matter what I tried in the kitchen, no matter how I sliced, seasoned or cooked, the eggplant would turn out bitter and rubbery or mushy. I almost gave up and decided to leave those gorgeous purple boys to the realm of gardening hobby and paintings in the Louvre.
Then one day someone (a neighbor?) told me about a simple trick for removing the bitterness of eggplant and bringing out its true taste: Lemon Juice!
That’s right, just Lemon Juice. You slice the eggplant thick or thin, any way you want, then douse the creamy white flesh with lemon juice (store bought or fresh squeezed) – and behold a miracle! The cooked eggplant will not be bitter, and also will not necessarily taste like lemon. It will marry up even better with any other seasoning or flavors that the eggplant is cooked with. I speculate that there must be some sort of chemical reaction going on, otherwise known as “a match made in heaven”.
Heavenly Eggplant Casserole – the easiest casserole on earth!
I love casseroles. You just throw one together and cook it up on the weekend, stash it in the fridge, and then eat goodly chunks of it throughout the week. Nothing could be easier and a layered casserole is generally packed with nutrition, a meal in itself.
Frankly, you can make a layered casserole with just about anything you happen to have on hand – the sky’s the limit. Many combinations of leftover vegetables, cooked or uncooked, layered on top of one another then baked until juices are combined and bubbling are going to taste great. You almost can’t go wrong.
But here is my favorite: Heavenly Eggplant layered casserole:
1 – Small to medium eggplant
2 – large tomatoes
1 – medium red onion
2 cups – Black eyed peas (cooked and seasoned) or black beans, lentils or cooked rice, any of these will do fine.
2 tablespoons of Lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons of Olive Oil
1 cup of vegan cheddar cheese
- Pull out your favorite casserole dish and spray the sides and bottom with non-stick cooking spray.
- The first layer of about a half inch or so at the bottom of the pan with be the (already cooked) black eyed peas. But as I say, beans, lentils or rice will work just as well.
- Layer 2: Slice one of your tomatoes into ¼ inch slices and lay them out to cover up the bottom layer completely. Sprinkle herbs over the tomatoes such as dill, rosemary and oregano.
- Layer 3: Slice your beautiful eggplant going across, starting at the bottom into half inch thick slices and place them on top of the tomatoes. Make sure a good splash of lemon juice covers all the eggplant slices, along with a little salt and pepper and dribbled over about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil.
- Layer 4: Slice up the second large tomato and place it on top of the eggplant. Again add a bit of salt and pepper and here is where I like to throw on some ‘herbs de provence’ – the tomato juices help to carry those flavors throughout.
- Last Layer: Chop the red onion very coarsely and pull it apart, placing the pieces so that they cover the last tomatoe layer.
- Now it’s time to cover everything with generous handfuls of cheese (I use vegan cheese, a good shredded vegan cheddar is widely available).
And now it’s time to put the lid on and bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes.
And that’s it! I hope you will let me know if you liked it and if you came up with any interesting variations of your own.