Michael Natkin, the author of Herbivoracious, starts the book by recounting some of his memories about growing up in Kentucky when vegetarianism was nearly unheard of. The times surely have changed now and he mentions that “good vegetarian food is just good food, period.” I certainly remember when almost everyone I knew thought if there wasn’t meat in the meal, it wasn’t a “real” meal. I’m very glad that has changed!
There’s nothing bland or boring about anything in Herbivoracious, all of the recipes are vibrantly colored and beautiful, using natural ingredients and fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables. There are also many vegan and gluten free recipes for anyone who is in need of those. The dishes have gorgeous photos accompanying them, which are taken by the author, who has gained a lot of experience taking photos for his popular blog with the same title as his book.
I loved the global influences in Herbivoracious, that’s really how my family likes to eat, so I was thrilled to find some new specialties. The two dishes I have tried so far are the Chana Masala (spiced chickpeas) with Mushrooms and the Chirashi (scattered) Sushi, which is served in a bowl. They are both based on favorite flavors of mine, and these dishes did not disappoint and were an exciting way for me to use these familiar ingredients in a new way.
There is a wonderful variety of recipes in the book, giving it a very broad and interesting range and it is amazing to see how the author takes common ingredients and transforms them into culinary masterpices. I really enjoyed Herbivoracious; it is an inspiring way for me to look at food and see it’s potential in a whole new light.
Recipe from Herbivoracious: Over-the-Top Eggplant Parmigiana
For this is no-holds-barred eggplant parmigiana, the eggplant is breaded with panko and pan fried, layered with fresh mozzarella and homemade tomato sauce, finished in the oven, and then topped with a dice of fresh heirloom tomatoes. It makes a satisfying entrée that needs only a green salad to make a celebratory dinner.
I don’t salt and drain eggplant for most uses, but it is worthwhile in this recipe. Extracting some of the liquid makes the eggplant fry up firm yet fork-tender. You don’t want any mush factor in your parmigiana.
Here’s a great tip for breading. Use one hand to put the eggplant in the flour, egg, and breadcrumbs. Use the other hand to toss the eggplant in the breadcrumbs and into the skillet. By keeping one hand for the wet stuff and the other for the dry, you avoid getting your hands breaded along with the vegetable!
The finest canned tomatoes for Italian dishes come from the area of San Marzano; look for that name on the can.
3 large or 5 smaller globe eggplants (about 4 pounds total)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes (San Marzano preferred)
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups panko breadcrumbs
4 large eggs, beaten
Vegetable oil for pan frying
3/4 pound mozzarella, sliced thin
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 handfuls of fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1-1/2 cups diced heirloom tomatoes
1 handful fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Peel the eggplant and slice lengthwise into scant 1/2-inch thick planks. Layer in a colander with a heavy sprinkling of kosher salt in each layer, top with a plate and weight with some cans. Set aside to drain for at least 30 minutes. Wipe off excess salt with a paper towel.
Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the crushed tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, while you make the rest of the recipe. Don’t add salt because the eggplant will still have residual salt from the draining process.
Set up a rack or baking sheet covered with paper towels for draining the fried eggplant. Butter a 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking dish and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Set up for dredging, with plates for the flour and breadcrumbs, and a shallow bowl for the eggs. Heat a good 1/4 inch of vegetable oil in your biggest skillet over high heat. Working with two slices of eggplant at a time, pat them in the flour until they have a dry coating, then drag through the egg, and finally press both sides in the breadcrumbs, covering thoroughly. Place them in the skillet, where they should start sizzling immediately. Fill the skillet loosely, leaving yourself some room to work. Flip when brown, about 2 minutes, then brown on the other side. They should be fork-tender to a fork at this point (the oven baking is just to melt the cheese, not cook the eggplant). Transfer the eggplant to the rack to drain. Repeat with the remaining eggplant, adding more vegetable oil as necessary.
To assemble, set down your first layer of eggplant, and top each slice with a couple tablespoons of tomato sauce, a piece of mozzarella, a bit of Parmigiano, and a bit of basil. Build up three layers, finishing with cheese.
Bake until the cheese is thoroughly melted, about 20 minutes.
To serve: Toss the heirloom tomatoes with the basil and a pinch of salt. Put an eggplant stack on each plate, and top with 1/4 cup of the heirloom tomato salad and a grind of fresh black pepper.