By Kendra Murray.
Without a doubt, summer in New England is the best time of year. Sunshine and hot days are prolific. My garden is bursting with color and life. Weekly treks to the farm begin again. I am in my happy place. With the advent of warm weather comes all of the vegetables that I’ve been missing for months. We all know that there’s nothing that compares to a fresh tomato off the vine, a crisp and cool cucumber, or a crunchy pole bean. However, have you ever had a fresh eggplant?
I know what you’re thinking–eggplant?! Hear me out. Eggplant truly gets a bad rap. Many people have had a poorly prepared eggplant parmesan and that was their one and only experience with the fruit (yes, they are technically berries). We all have had it—overcooked eggplant loaded with flavorless tomato sauce and topped with copious amounts of mozzarella cheese in an attempt to redeem or maybe disguise the poor, sad, soggy eggplant. Please, if this was your experience with eggplant, I urge you to try it again.
First of all, there are many different types of eggplant. The most common variety is the globe, or American, eggplant. This is what is found most often in grocery stores. This fruit can be up to a foot long and is wide and fat. Italian eggplant is similar but smaller and sweeter. There are also many different Asian varieties, many of which tend to be long and skinny, and also a bit sweeter than the familiar globe. Different types of eggplant lend themselves to different dishes, so experiment! Some, like the large globe, are great grilled, sweeter Asian varieties take well to a stir fry, and Italian eggplant is great when mashed into a dip like baba ganoush.
My favorite way to prepare eggplant is in a dish I found in the cookbook Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moscowitz, called BLT Mac and Cheese. The name of the dish is completely deceptive, as there is no bacon, nor lettuce, and absolutely no cheese in the dish. I’ve renamed it E.A.T. vegan pasta, standing for eggplant, arugula, and tomato. I know a lot of folks cringe when they hear the word vegan, but there are so many inventive and delicious vegan dishes out there. Just because something doesn’t have meat or dairy does not mean it can’t be tasty. In fact, my meat-eating fiancé often requests this meal, and it has become a staple in our home!
In this recipe, eggplant is cooked with a soy sauce and liquid smoke marinade, giving it that not-quite-bacon taste. There are a lot of ways to make eggplant bacon, and it can be baked according to your taste. Some folks like it really crispy and almost burnt, others just lightly cooked. It might take a few rounds of cooking this to determine what you like best. What would normally be cheese is replaced with a cashew cream sauce flavored with nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast is a complete protein and is loaded with vitamins and minerals, and it has a yummy cheesy flavor. It’s really great for vegans or folks who are limiting their dairy consumption. If you’re a die-hard cheddar lover, you can also make this recipe using a normal macaroni and cheese base, but I encourage you to try the vegan option. Again, this gets requested in my house. By a meat-eater. All the time.
In addition to using eggplant in an interesting way, this pasta is just perfect for summer. Fresh tomatoes are in abundance and using up a whole pint of cherry tomatoes all at once is almost a relief when the season is in full swing. Finishing it off with baby arugula adds a really nice touch. You may or may not be able to find arugula in the height of the summer as it’s typically found earlier in the season, but my garden has had productive greens in even the hottest months. If you enjoy mustard greens, that’s another spicy alternative. I really hope that you enjoy this dish as much as I do. Rethink eggplant, rethink vegan dishes, and try using a little creativity to spice up your summer meals!
E.A.T. Vegan Pasta
- 1 small to medium eggplant I tend to use globe
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon liquid smoke a bit more or less to taste
- 13.25 oz box of whole wheat pasta I like penne, but any pasta can be used, and it does not have to be whole wheat if that isn’t your thing!
- 2 big handfuls baby arugula
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes halved
- For the sauce:
- 1 cup raw cashews soaked in water for at least 2 hours (if using a Vitamix or high powered blender, you can skip the soaking)
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- juice of ½ lemon
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees and lightly grease two baking sheets.
- If using a globe or Italian eggplant, slice in half lengthwise, and then cut into ¼” thick half-moons. If using a Japanese or another long and thin eggplant, slice into ¼ rounds. Arrange eggplant in a single layer on baking sheets. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until eggplant is beginning to brown.
- While eggplant is cooking, combine soy sauce and liquid smoke.
- Prepare pasta according to package directions.
- After the eggplant is done baking, remove to the bowl with soy mixture. Toss to coat and place eggplant back on dishes and bake 3 to 5 more minutes, until desired crispiness is reached.
- Drain cashews if soaking.
- Combine all sauce ingredients in blender and process until very smooth.
- Combine eggplant, pasta, sauce, tomatoes, and arugula and serve.
Kendra Murray spends her free time each summer tending to her garden, hiking, and soaking up the sun. When not outside, Kendra can be found in the kitchen making use of the season’s bounty!