Have you heard of Meatless Mondays? I became aware of the concept a couple of years ago after reading Michael Pollan’s brilliant book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I’d also read articles about the negative effect of eating too much meat on our bodies, industrially raised animals, and event the planet. Who knew? Cow farts produce methane gas, a significant contributor to global warming according to some scientists.
It turns out eating less meat goes way back: During World War I, the U.S. Food Administration urged families to reduce consumption of key staples to aid the war effort. “Food Will Win the War,” the government proclaimed, and “Meatless Monday” and “Wheatless Wednesday” were introduced to encourage Americans to do their part.
The effect was overwhelming. Some 10 million families, 7,000 hotels and nearly 425,000 food dealers pledged to observe national meatless days. In November 1917, New York City hotels saved some 116 tons of meat over the course of just one week. According to a 1929 Saturday Evening Post article, “Americans began to look seriously into the question of what and how much they were eating. Lots of people discovered for the first time that they could eat less and feel no worse – frequently for the better.”
Now, we are no vegetarians, far from it, but I decided we should do our part to reduce global warming, and hopefully improve our health, by eating at least one vegetarian meal a week. Our go-to meatless menu is eggplant Parmesan; it’s delicious and filling and you can get several meals out of this recipe.
I’ve adapted the traditional recipe two ways: tidy little stacks that make for great lunch leftovers; and also a “skinny” version, which is included at the bottom of this post. I like to serve this with pesto pasta. Of course, I like to everything with pesto!
Eggplant Parmesan Stacks
Ingredients for Eggplant Stacks
2 large eggplants, sliced 1/8 inch thick
1 cup dry, fine seasoned bread crumbs
2 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup flour
¼ olive oil (and more if necessary for sautéing eggplants)
8 oz. part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
¼ Parmesan cheese, coarsely shredded
2 cups tomato sauce
Ingredients for Tomato Sauce
¼ cup olive oil
1 Spanish onion, ¼ -inch dice
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tbls. fresh thyme leaves, chopped or 1 tablespoon dried
1 tbls. fresh oregano leaves, chopped or 1 tablespoon dried
1/2 medium carrot, finely grated
2 (28-ounce) cans peeled diced tomatoes
½ can tomato paste
½ cup red wine
1 ½ tsp. sugar
1 tbls. Balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Preparation for Tomato Sauce
In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot, and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is quite soft. Deglaze the pan with the red wine.
Add the tomatoes with their juice, the sugar and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes until thick. Add the Balsamic vinegar and cook an additional 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Preparation for Cooking Eggplant and Assembling Stacks
Place sliced eggplant in a colander and salt both sides. Let set ½ hour and then dry them on paper towels to remove the excess moisture.
Place the flour, eggs and breadcrumbs in three separate dishes. Dredge eggplant slices first in flour, then dip them in the eggs and coat them with breadcrumbs. Repeat process until they are all coated.
Heat 1/8 cup oil on medium high heat in a large non-stick frying pan. Sauté eggplant slices one minute on each side and set on paper towels to drain. Add remaining 1/8 cup oil as needed.
In a large glass-baking pan (coated with non-stick spray), place one layer of eggplant slices to cover entire bottom of the pan. Spread a dollop of tomato sauce on each eggplant slice and sprinkle with cheese. Place the rest of the eggplant slices directly on top of the eggplant slices in the pan to create a stack. Repeat steps of covering each stack with tomato sauce and a generous topping of the Mozzarella cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for ½ hour.
Tips and Tidbits
The eggplant stacks hold up to a week in the refrigerator; they make great leftovers for lunch (or dinner for that matter). You can substitute homemade tomato sauce with store-bought sauce, but it’s not a good idea. To pick a perfectly ripe eggplant, make sure the stem and green leaves are bright green.
To make a lower-fat version of these eggplant stacks, use this recipe for baked eggplants (use the tomato sauce from the recipe on this post) and fat-free cheese. The only fat-free cheese we like is made by Lifetime. As a general rule, non-fat cheese is awful, but this brand works if you’re using it in a baked dish. It doesn’t melt as nicely as real cheese, but if you’re watching your calories, it is a suitable substitute.