I survived the worst year of my life because someone introduced me to eggplant parmesan submarine sandwiches. At least one full pound (half kilo) of heaven: deep-fried breaded slices of eggplant smothered in tomato sauce and cheese and smashed between two greasily grilled halves of a white bread torpedo. It had to be eaten during that brief stretch that exist between burning hot and congealed and absolutely absurdly accompanied by French fries and the carbonated phosphoric acid aid to digestion known as diet Coke. No other comfort food comes close (or as close to killing you).
Thank goddess I no longer live alone in a cold town several thousand miles from home nor work for a monster, because generously cheesed breaded oil bombs tucked inside bread is the most efficient way to send a middle-aged stomach staggering around melodramatically in pain for a few days. Also, cheese now sets off my greenhouse gas emissions danger radar.
So here is a cheese-free, wheat-free, oven-fried compromise, not to eggplant parmesan submarine sandwiches (although you can go that route if you want to), but to the eggplant parmesan itself. It ain’t nothing like the real thing, but it’s yummy in its own right and it shouldn’t keep you up all night in gastroenterological or climatological pain.
Gluten-free Vegan Eggplant Parmesan
- 2 medium-sized eggplants, sliced into approximately ½ inch (1.5 cm) thick disks
- canola or extra virgin olive oil
- 1 850-g (30-oz) can of whole tomatoes (or the equivalent in fresh tomatoes, but they will need a longer cooking time)
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 6-8 medium-sized brown mushrooms, coarsely chopped
- ~20 green or black olives, halved or whole
- 1 generous pinch each of crushed red pepper (red pepper flakes), marjoram, parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme
- dash of red wine or balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp vegetable bouillon powder (palm oil free)
- salt and pepper, to taste
- You can make the sauce ahead of time (it tastes better once it has sat for a bit) or you can make it while the eggplants are roasting.
In either case: sauté onions in 1 Tbsp oil on medium heat for a few minutes then add mushrooms and fry a few minutes more. Then add the canned tomatoes, breaking them up a bit with a knife or spoon. Add the olives, crushed red pepper flakes and herbs, wine or balsamic vinegar, vegetable bouillon powder, and salt and pepper. Simmer at least 15 minutes (longer is better) to give the tomatoes some time to break down.
PISCIVOROUS OPTION: if you’d like to veer vaguely in the direction of a puttanesca sauce, use mashed anchovies instead of (or in addition to) olives for the necessary umami.
- Brush both sides of eggplant disks with oil and arrange on a lightly oiled oven-proof baking dish, enameled cast iron frying pan (this is too acidic to cook in direct contact with iron, no matter how iron-deficient you might be), or cooking sheet with at least a slight bit of depth to it. Roast the eggplant at 350°F (177°) until they begin to soften (about 15-20 minutes, depending on how thick the slices are), flipping them over about half-way through.
- Arrange the eggplant disks as flat as possible and pour the (warm) tomato sauce over them. Make sure to work some of the sauce underneath the bottom layer of eggplant disks. Bake 20 minutes or so.
DAIRY OPTION: Before baking, grate cheese (e.g., low-moisture mozzarella) over the top.
- Serve with pasta, bread, or fried potatoes and something like a fennel and tangerine or mandarin orange salad or as a side to a main like steak or roast beef.