As I have spent the year of 2k13 away from the wonderful, delicious, and life saving Vanderbilt meal plan, I have come to quite a shocking realization; learning how to cook is essential to functioning as a real human. More surprising to me however is the fact that so few of my “young adult” friends actually know how to cook for themselves. Since living on my own in Edinburgh and NYC, I have noticed that a large percentage of my friends rely on fast food, take out, dining in, or microwaved meals/ramen noodles/pb&js/etc. This is basic, my friends.
I must admit, I could barley make a pot of spaghetti when I first moved to Edinburgh. I knew that eating out was not going to be a sustainable or healthy option during my time abroad, so I took it upon myself to learn how to cook. I would not label myself as the next “Rachel Ray” (although, I often wish I could) but I am proud to admit that I have mastered a diverse selection of delicious meals. Over the past few months I have made meals such as homemade gnocchi, homemade pizzas, vegetarian burritos, an array of curries and stir-frys, pad-thai, salads, pasta dishes, quesadillas, soups, chilies, stuffed peppers, and much more. I have come to love cooking and the creativity that comes along with it, and I am eager to continue learning and creating new recipes.
So, over the next year or so I plan to share some recipees with you to show you how easy cooking really is! In honor of the first “real meal” I ever made for a dinner party in Edinburgh, I present you my version of eggplant parmesan. I love this dish because its delicious and healthy! It is also great for when you have to cook for a group of friends! I suggest making a dish with some spaghetti on the side for an easy-Italian night. I often make a big batch of eggplant parm at the start of the week, so I can then refrigerate the leftovers and have lunch for the next week. Finally, one of the other great things about this dish is that you can be as creative as you want too! You can mix up the cheeses you use, add your favorite vegetables to your sauce, or add ground beef or vegetarian ground beef (shoutout to all of my vegetarians out there). You can truly make this dish your own.
For my eggplant parm, you will need:
1. A baking pan (I believe my pan at home is a pretty deep 12×12 inch pan, which fits one eggplant perfectly). If you have a bigger pan, feel free to use that, you just might need another eggplant or two!
2. 1 large eggplant (make sure its not too bruised).
3. 2 cups of cheese, any kind your heart pleases. I used a cup of smoked guada, 1/2 cup of munster and 1/2 cup of feta. But any cheese works as long as you like it. If this is your first time, go with a good melting cheese like mozzarella and sprinkle some parmesion in there as well! But make sure you have at-least 2 cups in total of cheese.
4. Lots of olive oil
5. Salt and pepper
6. Oregano and/or basil (optional)
For the Sauce:
1. One Jar of pasta Sauce
***optional if you want to spice your sauce up***
2. Any vegetables of your choice, but I recommend 1/2 a box of cherry tomatoes, half of an onion, and a few cloves of garlic. Feel free to add spinach, peppers, or anything else!
Step One: This might be the most important step of all time, (aka if you mess it up your life will be ruined). Just kidding but it may make or break your eggplant. Eggplant has a lot of water in it, and if you don’t dry out your eggplant, it tends to leave a very bitter taste. So cut up your eggplant into about 1″ round circles, leaving you with roughly 8-10 slices. Lay your eggplant out on either a cutting board, paper towel, or even a plate. Generously salt each side of the eggplant, and let sit for 20-60 minutes (depending on how much time you have on your hands). I think that this step is vital, and although you can technically “skip” it, I don’t suggest you do.
*Optional* Step two: I always love to spice up my sauces with vegetables and spices to give my eggplant an extra-kick. If you have a good jar of sauce, feel free to skip this step. But, if your sauce is a little lack-luster, or if are feeling creative and adventurous, carry on.
Turn on your stove on to a medium-low heat. Put a tablespoon or two of olive oil into your pot, and then dump your jar of pasta sauce into the pot. Now the fun part of doing whatever you want. For this particular recipe I cut up half of a box of cherry tomato, half of an onion, four cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, and paprika to taste. Feel free to add those, or what you like (maybe bell peppers, olives, spinach, whatever your heart desires). Let this simmer for 10-15 minutes on low heat
Step three: After you have waited 20-60 minutes, you will notice a lot of water on the surface the eggplant is sitting out. Squeeze out the remaining water in the eggplant with a paper-towel, and brush off any excess salt you see.
Step four: pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Step five: Grease the bottom of your baking dish with some olive oil and a few table spoons of your sauce (two or three table spoons are fine).
Step Six: Start putting your water-drained eggplant into the dish. If you are using an 12×12 dish, you should be able to fit four of those circular eggplant cuts comfortably.
Step Seven: Liberally sauce the first stack of eggplant.
Step Seven: CHEESE
Step Eight: Add the second layer off eggplant, then sauce, then cheese.
Step Nine: Place in over for roughly 20-25 minutes.
Step Ten: Chill for 10 minutes before cutting/serving.
Step Eleven: Eat and enjoy :)
Hope you enjoyed this recipe! If you tried it, let me know how it went!