There is NOTHING as comforting to me as eggplant parmesan. My great uncle Bob used to be an AMAZING cook and make the BEST eggplant parm that NO restaurant I have ever been to has EVER been able to compare to! He passed his secrets on to my parents and I have been a spoiled eggplant brat ever since.
The most wonderful part of eggplant parmesan is that is universally loved, gets BETTER as leftovers, and freezes incredibly well.
The WORST part of eggplant parmesan is how much time it takes. Not only do you need to slice, bread, and fry the eggplant, but if you’re really making it with love you’re also making home made sauce (and of course assembling the layers and baking it). Not exactly a weeknight dinner. YIKES.
There are some steps my great uncle added that do add some time on, but absolutely step up the texture and flavor. I still stand by those steps and think they’re worth every second. The one shortcut that saves a TON of time and makes this dish MUCH healthier is baking the eggplant instead of frying. If you use a high heat and minimal oil (I line my baking sheets with parchment paper and spray a light coating of cooking oil on), the eggplant discs crisp up very well and maintain the perfect texture for layering with sauce, ricotta, and getting re-baked.
According to Uncle Bob, the three keys that are most important to an excellent eggplant include:
- Peel the eggplant before slicing. Although you can eat the skin, they leave an unpleasant texture in the context of an otherwise soft and fork-ready dish.
- Slice it thin. Like 1/4 inch thick. This allows the discs to get a crisp texture and prevents the dish from being too mushy. It also means more surface area for breadcrumbs to cover which is where a lot of the flavor comes in.
- Soak the eggplant slices in salted water for about 10 min, then drain and dry before breading. This certainly adds time, but it leeches out any bitterness in the eggplant and really amps the flavor up. This is a step I NEVER leave out.
Easy Vegan Eggplant Parmesan
- 2 medium eggplants
- 2 cups marinara sauce
- 1 cup vegan ricotta
- 1 cup vegan mozzarella
- 1 cup plant based milk
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- 2 cups italian seasoned breadcrumbs
- cooking spray
- Pre heat oven to 400 degrees
- Begin preparing eggplant by peeling, slicing into 1/4 thick discs, then submerge in a large bowl filled with water and a generous amount of salt. Allow eggplant discs to sit in salted water 10 min. Make sure to turn discs over once or twice to ensure they all get soaked since they like to float to the top!
- After the eggplant is done soaking, remove the eggplants, drain, and pat dry with cloth or paper towels. Discard the water from the bowl.
- While the eggplants are drying, prepare your dipping and breading station. In a large bowl combine plant based milk and corn starch. In a separate bowl, pour in seasoned breadcrumbs. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper for the eggplant's third and final landing zone
- Dip the eggplant slices in the milk and cornstarch bowl, then cover completely with breadcrumbs. Lay slices on the lined baking sheet, then lightly spray with cooking oil. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn over, spray the other side, and bake another 10. Eggplant are ready when edges are crisp and golden. After you are finished baking off the eggplant drop the oven temperature to 350 degrees. (You can also skip the cooking oil and bake a few extra minutes if you are cooking oil free, but I think it helps crisp them up nicely and I don't mind a light coating)
- Optional alternative method: for the most intense flavor, eggplant DOES taste amazing fried in oil (especially olive oil). That being said, it is time consuming, uses up a lot of oil, and adds many empty calories to the dish. If you do fry your eggplant, be sure to drain it extremely well after on paper towels or paper shopping bags to get as much oil out as possible. You want them crisp and golden, not soggy or mushy! I have made it this way for many years and have decided that since we are going to be baking the eggplant in layers of sauce and cheese, there will be plenty more flavor added to this dish, so I don't think it's necessary.
- Take a 9×13 baking dish and spoon some marinara sauce on the bottom so the eggplant doesn't stick. Take your cooked eggplant discs and make a layer to cover the bottom. Sprinkle about 2 tbsp of vegan ricotta lightly over the eggplant, add another few spoonfuls of marinara sauce and use the back of the spoon to spread and distribute the cheese and sauce evenly. Repeat until the eggplants are used up! The number of layers will vary based on how much eggplant you have, but I usually end up with 3-4 layers. Some people also add mozzarella and/or parmesan between the layers, and I have done this many times myself, but honestly I think the main flavor comes from the ricotta and sauce here, so lately I have been saving my mozzarella and parmesan for the end.
- The top layer will have a different coating. First, spoon on some sauce , then sprinkle a nice even coating of mozzarella cheese. If you are using a DIY home made vegan mozzarella recipe, this will likely instead means spooning/drizzling it on and spreading as best as you can. To save time I used Violife mozzarella shreds instead.
- After your eggplant is assembled, return to the oven (now on 350 degrees) and bake for approximately 30 minutes. The dish is ready when heated through and the cheese is melted. Serve alone or with your favorite pasta. Top with extra marinara sauce and vegan parmesan cheese. Enjoy!
PS: There are many many vegan cheese options in stores and recipes to DIY at home, but here are some of my favorite options:
- My favorite store bought vegan ricotta cheese is made with almond milk by Kite Hill
- My favorite store bought mozzarella is by Violife
- My favorite home made vegan ricotta cheese recipe is the Minimalist Baker 5 ingredient Almond Ricotta
- My favorite home made vegan mozzarella recipe is by Gourmandelle Blog
Happy cooking! If you like this recipe or have any favorite tricks you use at home, drop a comment below, I would love to hear it! Follow my blog for more plant based recipes, or find me on Instagram at @chrissygoeshippy