Eggplant, broccoli rabe & long hots

A healthy, vegan “baked, not fried” crispy dish!

I’m slowly and steadily gaining proven results prepping and baking my own eggplant. In the 4 or 5 months I’ve been doing it I learned from experience, of course, and also some great suggestions by friends, and from the web.  I LOVE eggplant, broccoli rabe and Italian long hot peppers, a creation Primo Hoagies likes to call their ‘Veggie Diablo’. Pardon me but, @ $11 per, they just go down too fast and too easy. And of course once you eat anything prepared, you’re almost always giving up control over whether the ingredients are organic, how much love goes into the prep, etc. Cooking is in my blood; I grew up in a family where my mom and both grandma’s cooked like NYC chefs. I now conjure up eggs-cellent eggplant “Veggi D” sandwiches/pita pouches from the ground up. If you want to have a go, I’ll walk you thru it. It’s a time consuming process but the results are totally worth it. I HIGHLY recommend you click the above link to Emily’s ‘Layers of Happiness’ food blog. I don’t do as many ingredients as she does, but I take some key features from her. Fair warning: This is NOT a low-fat recipe. I use plenty of bread crumbs, olive oil and I usually serve it on bread of some kind. But it is healthy if your #1 goal is not losing weight.

Here’s the process in an elevator speech: It’s a vegan dish – no animal products. The broccoli rabe & long hots cook up simply, EVO oil and spices in a pan, bada-bing bada-boom. I OVERTHINK a lot of it but the BR and LH’s would prolly turn out almost as good if you just toss in a pan, cover it and go watch TV, stirring only once. Ha! The eggplants (in Italian, ‘melanzane’) are another story – kind of a huge deal. So you may want to do them on a different day. When you’re all done you’ll have three containers in the fridge. Warm up the portions in a toaster oven tray @ 230° for 20mins. Put a scooped roll on top of the warm toaster oven; weigh it down under a dish Eat in pita pockets, rolls, over an existing pizza (YUM!), knife and fork… however you want. Maybe a little avocado mayo on there… you’ll be in Melanzana Nirvana! Or damn close! If you wanna maybe pamper yourself a little xtra, take a kitchen shears & cut everything into bite size pieces as you plate your sammitch. THEN, it’s PERFECT! WOAH!

Here are the ingredients:

  • 3 large eggplants (I don’t buy organic anymore… way too expensive and too small)
  • 1/2 sweet or red onion
  • 2 large clusters of garlic
  • About 15 Italian long hot peppers
  • 3 bunches of broccoli rabe
  • Organic, quality tomato sauce (I like YO MAMA’S and RAO)
  • Extra virgin 1st cold pressed olive oil (EVO)
  • Coconut milk, unsweetened
  • Seasoned bread crumbs (Panko are fine too but Panko aren’t vegan)
  • Organic raw cashews
  • Spices: Himalayan salt, oregano, rosemary, lemon pepper, thyme & Nutritional Yeast (Nooch) when serving if desired
  • Corn starch
  • 2-3 fresh lemons
  • Purified mineral water
  • 6 large, lint-free kitchen towels or equiv.
Cut into bite size pieces, on brioche buns w/avocado mayo one side
Perfect! ‘Pizza’ setting on Breville mini toaster oven, rack in the middle, baked @ 350° for 45 mins.
Beautiful, firm, fresh eggplant and produce from Sam’s Italian Market, Willow Grove, PA

Broccoli rabe: Use a LARGE skillet or pot, COVERED for this low-heat method. I have a huge, 5 qt. deep Lodge cast iron thing. It fits 3 bunches of broccoli rabe with some wrangling. (The BR and LH’s are cooked separately, not together. BR covered, LH’s no cover.)

Heat your skillet before you start handling the vegetables with some EVO (oil) on low. The thing about cast iron is, it can heat semi-evenly if you use low heat. My sealed electric burners fit the bottom of my pans pretty perfectly, and LOW lets the cast iron transfer heat at its own pace. High heat means hot spots, especially at first, so I avoid it unless the cooking process demands it. I wash all my veggies in pure water, not in the sink. If I want my food to taste of chlorine and/or chloramine I’ll take it to a swimming pool or the township water processing plant and wash it there.

You want enough EVO to fully coat the bottom of your pot. My initial pour is about the size of a LARGE pancake. I know my favorite health guru’s strongly disagree, but until experience teaches me better, broccoli rabe takes a fair amount of oil to do right. Estimate would be, 1/4 cup in the pot w/garlic, and a 1/4 cup each to coat the three bunches. That’s a full cup of EVO, and for health-conscious me, that’s a A LOT of fat.

I don’t want to turn this into a cast iron cooking lesson, but know this much: If you’re all ready to go, and I mean like a cooking show where your ingred’s are staged and waiting to be added, you can start your pan @ half or a little higher heat, and then as the pan gets hot, RATCHET IT DOWN ‘notch by notch’ until U have the heat U want. If I start a large cast iron pan on my LOWEST electric setting, it takes 10-15 mins to get hot. But I use that to my advantage because it takes time to cut, wash, dry and coat the broc rabe.

  • Start chopped garlic (LOTS!!!!!) in EVO on low heat
  • CUT about 1.5″ off the ends of the stems. Whole stalks; I don’t cut. Leave all the leaves!
  • WASH in pure water – spin dry (see separate blog post if questions)
  • COAT each bunch with EVO oil
  • Sauté on low heat for approx. 30mins, turning thoroughly every five. Turn off heat, remove from heated surface, let cool to at least warm before refrigerating.

Smash and peel the garlic, one to two clusters, not cloves. (Royal VKB garlic tool – huge timesaver!) If I had to guess, maybe 25-30 cloves counting the tiny ones. I chop it up pretty good, but not crazy… chunk-lets are good.

At least this much garlic (to my taste) for 3 bunches of rabe

If it sizzles loudly when it hits the pan, turn the heat down. You don’t want to overly brown it because you’re going to be cooking the veggies for a while. Just get your garlic cooking in there very quietly, just a little sizzle. The heat setting really makes all the difference. You can’t cook like this on a line, while people are waiting for their food, but for yourself it’s SO worth the extra time it takes. I usually add spices right away. If you think that’s a mistake, tell me why. I use lemon pepper, thyme, rosemary & oregano. I don’t salt until later. (FYI lemon pepper contains lemon peel, black pepper, sea salt, onion powder and garlic powder, in ratio order.) Move everything around; scrape and marry the garlic with the oil & seasonings.

When the garlic starts to cook and get all nicey-nice w/the oil, just starting to turn golden in places, that’s when I like to add the veggies. You have to time all this stuff right. If you start the EARL and garlic too early, it might be overcooked and charred by the time your food is done. If my timing is off I’ll turn off the heat until I’m ready to coat it.

Washed in pure mineral water, spun dry, set aside

Once the broc rabe is rinsed and spun dry, set it aside in whatever you have that’s big enough to hold it all… I use a big pasta serving platter.

Coating with oil, one bunch at a time

Add the broccoli rabe ONE BUNCH AT A TIME. Tumble it with two large turners, over and over and over, until it’s coated with oil. Take it out, set it aside, add the NEXT bunch, add more EVO, toss and tumble, coat and remove. Set aside, do the THIRD batch. I saw an episode of The Chef Show where I learned to make it uniform, not just throw the food in and hope for the best.. I cannot physically toss 3 bunches of raw broc rabe all together, even in the largest pan Lodge makes. The bottom’s going to cook in oil, and the top two-thirds are just gonna kind of sit there, waiting for flavortown. One of the advantages of the huge cast iron deep skillet is, the lid weighs a full 5 lbs. It helps to press the veggies down into submission!

When my vegetables are cooking I can hear them sizzling if I put my ear next to the pot, but it’s not loud enough to hear from a few feet away. I stir about every five minutes, carefully lifting as much of the base (garlic & spices) as I can off the bottom when I lift, raise and tumble the veggies. Once the BR starts becoming manageable – softens up a little bit – you can add salt. I use Himalayan salt which is pretty strong. I salt twice, a light spritz over the entire area of the pot once, and then after I tumble them, another covering. I don’t think it amounts to more than a Tbspn.

Seasoned w/garlic, salt, lemon pepper, oregano, thyme, rosemary.

I typically use two tomato servers or two metal spatulas as turners, which make a helluva racket in a cast iron pan! I like metal. Chef Wolfgang Puck says, “Don’t use plastic. You want your food to taste like plastic?” I can scrape whatever might be sticking to the bottom, and certainly the pot doesn’t care. I rotate the pan and keep scraping from the outside in, lifting, trying to get all of what’s on top to the bottom and vice versa. If you go easy you might not make a mess!

Cook it slow & lo and don’t overcook. You”ll know it’s done when the stems are starting to become soft and everything’s still almost bright green. However you like it… that’s how you cook it. I find I’m cooking my veggies slightly less because I don’t want them to be gray moosh-a-moosh when I re-heat. Lo heat will make it tender and delicious… not all tough and nasty like you get sometimes in the prepared section of supposedly “high end” markets. Saute’ slowly. Stems are delicious… leave the leaves too!!!

Italian long hot peppers: Same skillet if you want, but in the interest of time you may wanna just use another large fry pan and do the LH’s while your BR is on. Crank the heat up JUST A TAD for the peppers. If low is 1 and hi is 10, I fry my peppers on about 3. I do just fresh onion for the peppers. I cut larger, slightly more “rustic” pieces of onion. (Shout out to Jon and Chef Roy!!)

I can’t cook all my peppers at once because they need room in the pan to have one “side” completely in contact w/the pan, not up in the air or draped over another pepper. Otherwise I’m not going to get the appearance I’m after. DON’T COVER, just let ’em fry up. Capsaicin abounds (spicy wafting clouds from cooking peppers) so if you have a stove hood that’s vented outside you’ll really appreciate that luxury. If you breathe in a hefty waft you’ll know it! When you’re done with the first batch add a little more oil before the second. Before I do that I also lift the skillet off the burner, and with an unbleached napkin or paper towel I wipe all the BLACKNESS, the tiny charred particles from the 1st round into the sink. BE CAREFUL if you do this because the pan is now searing hot. There is almost no liquid oil left at the end of each round of pepper cooking, just tiny charred remains that are easily brushed out.

I don’t season the long hots all that much. Lemon pepper, that’s it. No salt, just olive oil, and not too much. The more oil/broth/stock etc. is in your pan the less heat is transferred directly to the surface of the vegetable. Since I’m looking for a distressed, bruised, partially blackened appearance in the long hots, I use only enough oil to coat the pan, no more.

In order to get the peppers appetizing with a nice semi-blackened look you have to pay attention to what side is down. Turn them carefully, trying to cook at least 2 sides equally.

When the peppers look like this, but still have a little of their natural stiffness, I consider them done. I don’t cook them into mush.

Now for the eggplant, sonny…

I guess bad news first: There’s no way I’m gonna skip the slit/salt/sweat step. So if that’s a dealbreaker better get out now, LOL! They actually release a TON of water under heavy weight overnite. I’d never bother making them without salting/pressing.

I wash them in pure water and dry them off. I peel a little bit off each side so my end slices aren’t entirely skin on one side. I only want skin on the edges.

Cut them lengthwise, about 1/4″ slice thickness. When slicing longways, I get to about halfway, then turn it around and start from the other side. The last slice, if it’s thicker than I want, I do lying flat, with a wooden spoon to keep it from sliding away. The knife I use to cut these is SO SHARP. Knife sharpening is another hobby of mine. If you’re meticulous about the evenness of your last slice, you can start all around the edge and work your way in. If you can filet a fish well, you will have no trouble. I’ve never fileted a fish in my life!! LOL

You know you are going to STACK them when baking, so PAIR THEM UP now. It’s easier if you place the like sizes with each other. Lay out your slices and go easy with the knife. Make fast, light “claw marks” in middles of the eggplants. NOT ON TOP of your kitchen towel in case you slice all the way thru. Don’t go too slow or too hard. I do about 7-9 slits in large pieces of eggplant. Place them on kitchen towels.

Pink Himalayan salt already rubbed in

Sprinkle LOTS of Himalayan salt. RUB IT IN. Why Himalayan? Because that ocean was around loooong before any of us humans got the chance to poison it with micro-plastics.

Another towel to cover the slices, and then lay something like my wooden board over the top. Then pile on: cast iron, weights, liquids in bottles… whatever’s handy.

If you don’t have all nite, three-four hours is probably fine.

Kitchen towel drenched in melanzana water after being weighed down overnite

“Moulie” board for even weight distribution. It gets wet and is now pretty warped.

After pressing I RINSE them in pure water, lay ’em out on a towel and flip so both sides are dry.

Rinsing off the salt in purified mineral water. I now use a much bigger bowl with much more water.

I prepare a vegan “batter” for the breadcrumbs. Mix unsweet coconut milk with milled flaxseed, not whole or coarse. This is your egg substitute.

Unsweetened coconut milk and milled flax seed

Put about a half-inch of coco milk in a pan big enough to accomodate your healthy-size melanzane slices. Toss in about 1/3 cup of flax, stir well. It takes awhile to SET UP, so maybe you should do this first. If it gets too thick later on it’s ok, just add a little more (just a leetle) coco milk and thin it out again. It should be a little gooey. And after you coat your eggplants with the milk, then just double-dip in your favorite breadcrumbs. All I had this time was plain/unseasoned breadcrumbs, so I added my own Italian seasonings, and Nooch. (nutritional yeast) I do NOT coat the eggplant with flour or corn starch. It’s an additional step I have no patience for, and if you’re not frying them it’s gross.

Almost ready for the toaster oven!

So then grab yourself a high quality sauce in a jar, like RAO’S or YO MAMA’S organic w/basil, and when your first layer of slices are all breaded and situated on your baking sheet, spoon and smooth marinara in the center of each one. (My longtime friend Kitty Fitz is suggesting I try making my own homemade marinara. ANOTHER STEP??!??? Aw C’MON!!!)

Then spoon your mozzarella sauce on there too. If it’s been in the fridge you’re going to want to WARM IT, cause it’s thick as all get-out.

Almost ready for the toaster oven!

A word about the vegan mozz sauce – I do it almost exactly like Emily does on LayersofHappiness.com. This IS something I measure. Lately I’ve doubled the quantity because it’s a PITA when I run out, and it keeps WELL in the fridge for weeks. Here’s the single portion recipe, with a few of my own tweaks:
• 3/4 cup organic raw cashews
• 1/2 cup pure water
• 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice (I use a sieve)
• 3/4 teaspoon sea salt (or 1/2 teaspoon, it’s a pretty salty recipe)
• 2 garlic cloves (I use 3 cloves when doubling the quantity)
• slice of fresh red onion (instead of 1/2 teaspoon onion powder)
• 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
• 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil (or 1 Tbspn dried basil if that’s all you have)

Blend in your Vitamix. Start slow, go medium for about 20 seconds, then HIGH for 1min 45 sec. It will be warm. The original recipe on Layers site calls for the fresh basil to be added when serving. I added the basil into my Vitamix by mistake. But now I just make it that way. I think the green tint is appetizing. God know why!

Emily’s vegan mozzarella sauce. I save it in old marinara jars.

Then bread your second round of slices, and hopefully everything will be kind of even numbered, and you will have mostly double stacks, like in the picture below. Drizzle the top layer with EVO, then again with the red sauce. (Hold two fingers tightly over your bottle of EVO and invert. That’s how Jon Favreau drizzles.) I then bake on the PIZZA setting of my toaster oven @ 350° for maybe 40 mins. And I’ll talk a little bit about HEAT here… Scoville heat. My daughter won’t eat this if I make it with long hots or anything like that. If you don’t have long hots you can make just the EP and BR and later customize each sammy with some fresh, minced up garden fresh peppers. At my place in the summertime that just happens to be Scorpion, Carolina Reaper, long thin cayenne and an Indian variety for which I don’t know the name. I thought I was a BIG FAN of hot sauce, and I certainly am. But I’m an even bigger fan of garden fresh minced.

Drizzled, topped w/red… all ready for baking!
Breville Micro-mini toaster oven. LOVE THIS THING

And lemme tellya Sportfans, it’s WORTH IT. I never ate so much dang whitebread as in the last few days! Plowin’ down baked eggplant and broccoli rabe sengwitches on stupid, scoopid soft rolls!!! (IMHO it’s best if thou scoopid)

Bread after scoop
After warming under a plate on top of taster oven. Almost like a joke.
Yes that’s right, I HACKED THE GOODNESS even further: added arugula, avocado mayo, Nooch

What a sammitch!!! Datz SOM SAMMITCH YOU SOMBEETCH!!!! SUM DAM SAMMITCH! LOL

w/parmesan reggiano and pickles
When your kid eats it ya know ya done good!

Once again, the ingredients:

  • 3 large eggplants (I don’t buy organic anymore… way too expensive and too small)
  • 1 sweet or red onion
  • 2 large clusters of garlic
  • About 15 Italian long hot peppers
  • 3 bunches of broccoli rabe
  • Organic, quality tomato sauce (I like YO MAMA’S and RAO)
  • Extra virgin 1st cold pressed olive oil (EVO)
  • Coconut milk, unsweetened
  • Seasoned bread crumbs (Panko bread crumbs are fine, but Panko have cheese)
  • Organic raw cashews
  • Himalayan salt
  • Spices: oregano, rosemary, lemon pepper, thyme & Nutritional Yeast (Nooch) when serving if desired
  • Corn starch
  • 2-3 fresh lemons
  • Purified mineral water
  • Large kitchen towels

Please COMPOST if you can. It saves you stinky garbage and it saves the planet a little too. Re-use plastic bags from stores to hold your paper bags so they don’t fail and dump compost at your feet when you take them out. If you don’t have a way to enclose and turn your ‘pile’ (I don’t) just dump it along the edge of your property. Later you can always take a shovel and turn it into the earth.

remains of the day


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