Sinking the edge of the spatula into the bubbling pan of lava made from tomato sauce and cheese is perhaps one of the most satisfying moments of eating eggplant parmesan. I think that is a big reason I make this dish at home. Like pizza, I’ve burned my mouth numerous times on eggplant parmesan, and it’s been worth the scalding. Cheese and tomatoes, can there be a better combination?
This is a fun take on this beloved Italian classic called melanzane alla parmigiana, aka eggplant parmesan, through an Indian lens. I stuck with a theme – Go bold and go hot! The tomato sauce gets infused with heat from red pepper flakes, turmeric, and garam masala in the tomato sauce, and a sprinkling of nigella seeds (don’t use mustard seeds here, it doesn’t work nicely in this combination).
There’s one other change that I made to reduce the wateriness of eggplant parmesan. Traditionally, eggplant slices are fried and then layered into the baking dish. In the first half of the recipe, freshly cut slices of eggplant are sprinkled with salt and left to sit. Salt acts as an osmotic agent by drawing out the water inside the eggplant. I want to clarify that salt does not reduce bitterness in eggplants. First, eggplants are bred to be less bitter; farmers have selected less bitter-tasting varieties, so even if you skip the salt, they usually don’t taste bitter (they won’t taste as nice, salt is essential for taste). Bitter-tasting molecules in eggplants are large, and salt can’t pull them out as well. Instead, salt masks the taste of bitterness, if any. Once the eggplant is salted and water drawn out, I rinse the slices quickly to get rid of excess salt, pat them dry, and then roast them in the oven. Roasting helps produce richer flavors in the eggplant and dehydrates the vegetable even more.
I like to serve eggplant parmesan with a green salad on the side—a bed of cold lettuce with a bit of olive oil and vinegar. Eggplant parmesan is one of those dishes that stands on its own and needs nothing else.Print
2 large (each about 1 1/2 lb/680 g) globe eggplants, cut into ¼ in/6 mm thick slices lengthwise
Fine sea salt
2 Tbsp ghee or unsalted butter, softened to room temperature plus extra to grease a baking dish
1 tsp red pepper flakes (use a hot variety)
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 ½ tsp garam masala, homemade or store-bought
1 large white or yellow onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
One 28 oz/800 g can crushed tomatoes
6 oz/170 g shredded mozzarella
¼ cup/8 g grated Parmesan
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cubed
1 Tbsp nigella seeds
2 Tbsp fresh basil leaves, torn
- Preheat the oven to 400F/200C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- While the oven heats up, sprinkle a baking sheet with a bit of salt. Place the eggplant slices in one layer and sprinkle salt over the slices. Add the next layer of eggplant and sprinkle salt on top. Repeat until all the eggplant is salted. Leave on the kitchen counter for 30 minutes. Drain the liquid from the eggplant and rinse under running tap water; pat the slices dry with paper towels and transfer the slices to the two baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Brush the slices lightly with a bit of grapeseed oil, place in the preheated oven, and cook until the slices start to lightly brown, 20 to 30 minutes, rotating the trays halfway through during roasting.
- While the eggplant sits with the salt, prepare the tomato sauce. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat and add the ghee. Add the red pepper flakes and swirl the pan until the ghee turns light red. Add the turmeric and garam masala, and cook until fragrant, 30 to 45 seconds. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, 1 minute. Add the onions, and sauté until tender and translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Fold in the crushed tomatoes and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 1 minute. Taste and season with salt or sugar if needed. Remove from the heat.
- Grease an 8 in by 12 in/20 cm by 30.5 cm baking dish at least 2 ½ in/6 cm deep with a little ghee. Layer the base with one layer of eggplant. Cover the eggplant slices with enough tomato sauce and sprinkle the shredded mozzarella on top. Repeat with the next layer of eggplant, tomato sauce, and mozzarella until all the eggplant is used up. The top layer should be eggplant covered by the remaining tomato sauce. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella on top of the tomato sauce. Sprinkle the parmesan all over and dot with the butter. Place the baking dish in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven; if there is excess liquid, draw some of the liquid out using a spoon from one of the corners. Sprinkle the nigella seeds over the top, rotate the baking dish halfway through, and return to the oven. Bake for an additional 15 minutes until the cheese starts to get golden brown on the sides. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with the torn basil. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- There are two steps to reduce the water in this version of eggplant parmesan. First, the eggplant slices are salted to draw out their water via osmosis. Second, the salted eggplant slices are roasted in the oven to help reduce their water content even further.
- I prefer the taste of canned tomatoes here; they give a much better and more robust flavor than fresh tomatoes. Canned tomatoes also cut back on cooking time.
- Use hot red pepper flakes in this recipe. ½ tsp of ground cayenne also helps amp the heat levels up.
- I use a cast-iron baking dish for eggplant parmesan, but you can also use glass, ceramic, or aluminum. Adjust the cooking time accordingly.