Israeli Couscous, Eggplant and Tomato Gratin

If you’re looking for a hearty, satisfying meatless dish, Israeli Couscous, Eggplant and Tomato Gratin should be next on your “to make” list. I made this for dinner for my favorite vegetarian friend, and even I had seconds! Israeli couscous is a great little grain — it’s more like a pasta than a couscous actually. The grains are larger than regular couscous and have a nice chew to them when cooked al dente — and make sure you do. The layering and cheese going on here, plus the basil topping made this taste almost like a lasagna!

Serve with a salad and bread.

TW’s Tips

  • I used crushed San Marzano tomatoes but you could substitute your favorite canned tomato sauce
  • Any eggplant will do — use your favorite type or whatever looks best at the grocery/market
  • See tip below for cooking the Israeli couscous

Enjoy!

Israeli Couscous, Eggplant and Tomato Gratin

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds eggplant (2 medium globe eggplants or 4 to 6 smaller or Japanese eggplants), sliced into rounds, about 1/3 inch thick
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil (plus additional for oiling the foil and baking dish)
  • 2 cups cooked Israeli couscous (see below). You can also use regular couscous or any other cooked grain
  • 2 cups fresh tomato sauce or marinara sauce made from canned tomatoes
  • 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup, tightly packed)
  • Torn or slivered basil leaves for garnish

Directions
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat foil generously with olive oil. Toss eggplant slices with salt to taste and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Line baking sheet with the slices in a single layer (you may need 2 baking sheets, or do this in batches). Place in oven and roast for 15 minutes. Eggplant will look dry on surface but should be soft when pierced with a knife. Remove from oven and, wearing oven mitts, carefully fold the foil up in half over the eggplant and crimp edges to create a sealed packet. Allow eggplant to steam inside the packet for another 15 minutes (you can cook couscous during this time). Turn oven down to 375 degrees. Oil a 2-quart gratin or baking dish with olive oil. Place cooked Israeli couscous in a bowl and stir in 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce. Spoon into baking dish in an even layer.

Remove eggplant slices from foil packet (they should be thoroughly tender), and layer on top of couscous, overlapping slices slightly. Cover with remaining tomato sauce and sprinkle on Parmesan cheese. Drizzle on remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Place in oven and bake 30 minutes, until browned and bubbling. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with torn or slivered basil leaves just before serving.

Tip
Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat and add 1 cup Israeli couscous. Toast the couscous, shaking the pan or stirring often, until it colors very lightly and smells aromatic and toasty, a bit like popcorn. Immediately add 2 quarts water and salt to taste (be generous, as if you are cooking pasta) and boil 10 minutes, until the couscous is al dente; it should not be mushy and there should still be plenty of water in the pot. Drain through a strainer and rinse with cold water. Tap the strainer against the sink to drain well, then return the couscous to the pot, cover the pot with a kitchen towel, and return the lid. Let sit for 10 minutes. Measure out 2 cups and proceed with recipe.

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Deconstructed Eggplant Parmesan Sandwich

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If you think this looks impressive, you are correct. And it tasted as good as it looks. Continuing on my eat-more-veg-meals kick, I saw this recipe from Jeff Mauro and couldn’t resist. #1: obviously it’s a sandwich. My favorite. #2: it uses eggplant, also a favorite. #3: it’s Italian. Enough said.

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This recipe isn’t what I’d call easy, but it was worth it. The result is a very filling, meaty sandwich with some great flavors going. Some melty goodness from the cheese, freshness from the basil and spice/acid from the pickled peppers and roasted tomatoes. Pretty amazing if you ask me.

TW’s Tips

  • It wasn’t easy to get the oil at the right temp, despite using a frying thermometer. Watch it closely and throw in the eggplant as soon as it’s hot enough.
  • Squeeze the tomatoes when you drain them — I ended up with too much liquid and drained some off the cookie sheet when I roasted them, as well. You want to get them caramelized, which means as little liquid as possible.
  • These are best right after you cook them, but reheat them in the oven and they’re great as well.

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Ingredients

Eggplant:

  • Two 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes, drained of their liquid
  • 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • Salt
  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds (you’ll need at least 8 rounds)
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, for dredging
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 3 cups panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

Sandwich Build:

  • 2 tablespoons salted butter, softened
  • 4 soft brioche buns
  • 1 pound burrata cheese
  • 1/2 cup pickled cherry peppers, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 16 leaves fresh basil

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone liner and another baking sheet with a wire rack.

For the eggplant: In a bowl, toss the tomatoes with the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, brown sugar and some salt. Evenly place the tomatoes on the lined baking sheet. Place in the oven and roast until slightly caramelized and dried out a bit, 20 to 30 minutes. Set aside.

Set the eggplant slices on the wire rack (if you don’t have a rack you can use a colander set in the sink). Sprinkle salt on each side of the eggplant and let the salt do the work for 15 to 30 minutes.

Once the salt has released moisture from the eggplant, pat the slices dry with paper towels. Then sprinkle each side of the eggplant with pepper.

Set up a standard breading station with the flour in one shallow dish, the eggs in another and the panko mixed with the Parmesan in a third dish. Dredge each eggplant slice in the flour, shake off any excess, dip in the egg, let any excess drip off and then coat in the panko. Set aside on the wire rack and repeat.

In a large cast-iron skillet, heat 1-inch vegetable oil to 350 degrees F.

Working in small batches, fry the eggplant slices, turning once, until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes a side. Using a pair of tongs, transfer back to the wire rack. Repeat with the remaining eggplant. Make sure to season the eggplant as it comes out of the oil.

For the sandwich build: Butter and griddle both sides of the buns until golden and crispy (you can toast the buns as well). Tear the burrata over the bottom buns, then add 2 hot eggplant slices, some roasted tomatoes, a few pickled cherry peppers and some fresh basil leaves on each bun. Serve to applause.

Stack of Heaven: Eggplant, Tomato & Feta Cheese Napolean

I live for the day when heirloom tomatoes appear at the farmers market. I’m a bit of a tomato fiend — I’m sorry, but a sandwich is just not a sandwich without tomato — but nothing beats a fresh, local, funky-looking heirloom tomato. I love them so much that I spent $12 on them at the farmers market. And it will be worth every penny, believe me!

My go-to with an heirloom is a simple caprese salad with fresh mozzarella, but this week I found a delicious-looking recipe for Eggplant, Tomato, and Feta Cheese Napoleans (courtesy of Emeril). Um, yes please!

Eggplant is one of my favorite vegetables, and I found some adorable little purple and white specimens at Whole Foods that I couldn’t pass up. Roasted with balsamic vinegar and stacked with goat cheese, tomatoes and basil oil…oh wow. Not only does it look impressive, I think I could eat this for every meal this week. I opted for goat cheese instead of feta — good choice, if I don’t say so myself.

Seriously — how amazing does that look? I outdid myself on this one.

Eggplant, Tomato and Feta Cheese Napolean

PESTO OIL:

  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves, washed and patted dry
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

NAPOLEONS:

  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese or goat cheese (about 6 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
  • 2 large tomatoes, cored

To make the pesto oil, pulse the basil and garlic in a food processor or blender until finely chopped. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a steady stream and process until well blended. Season with the salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and cover tightly.

To make the napoleons, preheat the oven to 450°F.

Cut the eggplant crosswise into 12 slices about 1/4 inch thick. Mix 1/4 cup of the olive oil and the balsamic vinegar in a large bowl. Add the eggplant slices and toss to coat. Season with the salt and pepper.

Place the eggplant on a baking sheet in one layer and bake until soft, turning once, about 15 minutes. Let cool.

In a small bowl, combine the cheese, basil, and the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Slice each tomato crosswise into 4 slices about 1/3 inch thick. Place 1 eggplant slice on a salad plate. Top with about 1 tablespoon of the cheese mixture, then a tomato slice. Drizzle 1 teaspoon of pesto oil over the tomato, then top with another tablespoon of cheese. Repeat with an other eggplant slice, 1 tablespoon cheese, a tomato slice, and 1 teaspoon pesto oil. Finish with a final eggplant slice, another tablespoon of cheese, and a drizzle of pesto oil. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

Serve at room temperature, with pesto oil drizzled around each napoleon.

Yield: 4 servings