The Most Amazing Vegan and Gluten Free Eggplant Recipes

Moroccan Lentil Stuffed Eggplant - Recipe from the Minimalist Baker
I cook vegetarian meals for my family, so we actually eat vegan meals all the time, without giving it a thought. That is, until we actually want to eat vegan, for health reasons. As I begin to look over all of my vegan and nearly vegan recipes, I realize it will be quite challenging coming up with whole food options that don't rely on processed meat-alternatives and strangely concocted dairy substitutes.

One star ingredient for hearty vegan meals, that is always worth the extra effort, is eggplant (aka aubergine). The earthiness matches up well with all kinds of tomato-based sauces, mushrooms, lentils and winter vegetables.

Depending on the season, and where in the world you're shopping, there may be different eggplant varieties available. Sometimes I can only find the big giant purple eggplants (of course we'd call them "American" eggplants, wouldn't we?). These are great when you need slices, or for long cooking processes like roasting or stews. They should usually be salted and rinsed before cooking to eliminate bitterness. The smaller varieties are more versatile. If I'm cooking fast and hot in oil, the smaller the eggplant, the better - but we can always work with what we have.

This week I prepared a big batch of basic brown lentils for some experimenting, so I tried this recipe from the Minimalist Baker for Moroccan Lentil Stuffed Eggplant. The lentils are cooked and mixed with a raw sauce of bell pepper, garlic and spices before baking. Amit enjoyed the flavors, and the addition of tangy vinegar and sweet maple syrup was a nice change from the usual, for us. However, I personally am not a fan of bell peppers, and might choose to roast them (along with cooking the garlic and shallots) before blending sauce.

The Moroccan dish was a fun change, but I still consider these tried-and-true Eggplant recipes my favorites:

#1 Favorite: A comforting casserole.
Eggplant Mushroom Polenta Bake by Amy Wisniewski

Green olives and mushrooms are my favorite surprise in this eggplant casserole.

This is a hearty casserole with a tomato sauce, cooked in a cast iron skillet. The eggplant melts in your mouth, and leftovers are worth fighting over.

VEGAN: Use vegetable stock or non-dairy milk in place of cow's milk and omit the cheese for vegan polenta. This is a flavorful, saucy, casserole in which dairy will not be missed.

#2: Adventurous splurge with rich flavor.
Aubergine Fesenjan by Meera Sodha

Aubergine Fesenjan with rice and paratha

Meera Sodha is my current chef obsession. I tried this recipe from her upcoming book, Fresh India, and I can not wait to get my pre-order copy from Amazon! This version of an ancient Persian recipe is a change from the usual curries. The buttery eggplant contrasted by the texture of the nuts and crunch of pomegranate seeds is well balanced. The gravy has the richness of onions, sweetness of honey, spice from chili, and tart flavor from pomegranate. What fun!

Aubergine Fesenjan ready to eat

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I stepped outside my comfort zone with this one and had to send Amit to the Indian market for some new ingredients even I don't keep on hand. He could not find rapeseed oil, so opted for the closest relative: mustard oil. Pomegranate Molasses was not exactly easy to locate, either, but he found a Turkish brand of Pomegranate Aromatic Sauce, which worked out fine.

This was my first time working with fresh pomegranate also, which does seem to appear in more mainstream produce aisles in the late autumn, here in New York. (I used the "bash out the seeds" method from this YouTube video from Jamie Oliver.)

Sourcing exotic ingredients and learning a new skill took a little extra effort, but it was worth it!

VEGAN: Honey, used in this recipe, is not technically vegan. For this recipe, if you're already at the specialty market, pick up some jaggery (an Indian sweetener made from sugarcane without chemical processes) to add sweetness. About 2-3 sugarcube sized pieces (or 1 tablespoon) melted into the sauce should do the trick. Otherwise, a few pinches of brown sugar could suffice.

#3: One pot meal.
Slow Cooker Eggplant Coconut Curry

You can set-and-forget this one in the cooker, if you can manage to think ahead 3 hours. If not, just cook as you would any stew: sauté the onions, add your favorite curry powder or spices (such as cumin, coriander, turmeric and cayenne) followed by vegetables and stock. Finish with cashew-coconut cream, lime and herbs. Just be sure to start by soaking your cashews as early as you can get to it, no worries if it's a short time, they're just nuts, after all - no stress!

#4: Quick Asian stirfy.
Braised Tofu with Eggplant and Shitake Mushrooms by Mark Bittman

I haven't made this in a while. I'm so glad I looked back on my archives to remember this one! My kids both love tofu, although we eat it sparingly. It never goes to waste. This recipe, by my favorite inspirational chef, is from a key cookbook on my shelf: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Frying the eggplant gives it that melt-in-your-mouth texture I mentioned earlier, and it's simple and fast to throw together. I may have to skip the tofu when we eliminate processed foods, but I think some cashews or broccoli would work well to add protein, served with a healthy grain like quinoa.

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What are YOUR favorite vegetarian or vegan eggplant recipes? Please comment, post pics or links to share your ideas!


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