Cheap & Easy: Eggplant Parm Melts

Cheap & Easy: Eggplant Parm Melts

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Moving is the worst. It doesn’t matter how exciting the prospect of a new home is, when it comes time to move, misery is the prevailing emotion. That’s how it is for me, at least. Also contributing to the misery is the fact that I need things to be perfectly organized and scheduled, and when it comes to moving, even the most meticulous planning will no doubt unravel. It’s exhausting, frustrating and overwhelming. Needless to say, the last two weeks of packing and moving and unpacking have been non stop crazy.

Im so happy to say that we’re all moved in, pretty much set up, and absolutely loving our new apartment in Williamsburg, a trendy Brooklyn neighborhood of NYC. This is my 5th neighborhood since moving to New York in 2011, and I have a feeling it’s going to be my favorite. Although there is still a lot to do, I feel as though I can finally fall back into my usual routine and I couldn’t be more ready.

In honor of the move, I’m sharing a super simple, cheap and healthy dinner idea that came in handy during the moving process. I actually first made these delicious eggplant parm melts while in Florida a few weeks ago with my family. When trying to use up items in the fridge one afternoon, we used leftover grilled eggplant discs, fresh mozzarella cheese, jarred tomato sauce and my favorite Ezekiel English Muffins to make a light and simple lunch. I knew immediately that this would be a new go-to for us. Now let’s fast forward to the whole packing and moving process, when lack of time, saving money and staying healthy were all on my mind when coming up with dinner every night. My answer to these concerns on more than one occasion over the past couple weeks was to make these eggplant parm melts, and now I feel an almost emotional attachment to them.

DSC_0173I changed up the recipe slightly from Florida to be even more economical. I replaced fresh mozzarella with regular mozzarella and used the Whole Foods brand canned tomato sauce instead of a fancy jarred marinara. The beauty of this recipe is that you can really use whatever you have on hand, the brands you prefer, or items on sale at the moment. I do find that using a simple canned sauce tastes better with some simple seasoning action, like dried basil and garlic powder. I further add flavor with the technique of rubbing raw garlic onto the lightly toasted base English muffins before adding the toppings. This is optional but highly recommended.

Finally, I have a quick note about cooking eggplant, but then I’ll get to the recipe. Cooking eggplant is sometimes seen as intimidating, probably because so many recipes require removing some of the moisture with salt or soaking the eggplant in water before cooking. These steps are important to remove the slight bitterness inherent in eggplants. But never fear, eggplant is rather forgiving and these small steps before cooking take minimal effort. And sometimes, I ignore these pre-cooking steps completely. It’s not the end of the world, depending on the recipe.

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When it comes to cooking the eggplant for this recipe, there are a few options. Using leftover grilled eggplant like I did in Florida, or grilling eggplant for this specific recipe, makes these melts insanely quick and easy, like under 30 minutes. But not everyone has a grill pan for the stovetop and grilling outside can often become a production. In this case, I recommend roasting the eggplant. Roasting the eggplant takes a little longer, but it’s really just as simple. Make dinner time even easier by roasting the eggplant in advance.

And without further ado, my simple recipe for Eggplant Parmesan Melts, perfect for those days you want an easy dinner that won’t blow your wallet or your diet.

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Cheap & Easy Eggplant Parm Melts
Serves: 4    Start to Finish: 45 minutes

Ingredients
1 Italian Eggplant, about a pound
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
Salt
4 English Muffins, split (I used Ezekiel Sprouted Grain English Muffins)
1 14-oz can Tomato Sauce (I used Whole Foods 365 brand)
4 ounces Part-Skim Mozzarella, shred while eggplant cooks (I used Whole Foods Brand)
1/4-1/2 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese (I used Whole Foods brand)
1 clove Garlic, kept whole and peeled, optional
Dried Basil, optional
Garlic Powder, optional

To Make

Trim ends of eggplant. Slice lengthwise into 1/2 inch discs. Season both sides of each disc with salt. Allow to sit for 20 minutes. Use a clean towel to remove the excess moisture.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees to roast eggplant.

Spread eggplant slices out on a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush each side with olive oil and season with black pepper. Roast eggplant for 25-30 minutes, flipping once half way through cooking.

While eggplant cooks, brush each muffin half with olive oil. Lightly toast English muffins in a toaster oven or in broiler. Peel a clove of a garlic and cut in half. Rub the cut side over toasted English muffins (doing this gives a slight garlic flavor, this step is optional).

When eggplant is finished, assemble the melts. Top each muffin half with 2 spoonfuls of sauce. I like to season the sauce layer with salt, garlic powder and dried basil (optional). Top sauce with 1 or 2 slices of eggplant, depending on size of slice. Top eggplant with 1 or 2 more spoonfuls of sauce, 1 or 2 tablespoons mozzarella, and then 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese.

Using a broiler or toaster oven, broil muffins until cheese is melted and golden brown. Season with salt and liberally sprinkle on some dried basil.

Serve with fresh fruit or simple salad.

*The baking method takes about 30 minutes. You could also grill the discs over medium-high heat, using an outdoor grill or stovetop grill pan, for about 4 minutes per side (saves time).

Mediterranean Chickpea Salad Sandwiches with Feta & Peppers

Mediterranean Chickpea Salad Sandwiches with Feta & Peppers

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Greetings from Florida! I can’t even begin to express how nice it is to be totally checked out of reality for the week. No work, no hustle and bustle, no mass transit. It’s just sun, sand, and relaxation here in Boca Grande, Florida. I’ve been coming to Boca Grande since I was a tot. It’s so nice to be somewhere so familiar, yet so far from my normal day to day life. Continue reading “Mediterranean Chickpea Salad Sandwiches with Feta & Peppers”

Easy Homemade Whole Wheat Tortillas

Easy Homemade Whole Wheat Tortillas

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I try really hard to eat fresh, whole foods as much as possible. And if I do purchase packaged foods, I like them to be made with only recognizable ingredients. For example, pasta isn’t difficult to buy prepackaged because it’s easy to find organic pasta made with only 100% whole wheat flour and water. But I love carbs and I don’t stop at pasta. Sandwiches, pizza, bagels, and burritos are also very important to me. So what’s a girl to do? The answer is simple. I just have to make my own doughs. Continue reading “Easy Homemade Whole Wheat Tortillas”

Simply Roasted Spaghetti Squash

Simply Roasted Spaghetti Squash

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November has arrived and the holiday season is right around the corner, if not already here. I’m planning to spend much of November focused on vegetarian-friendly dishes perfect for holiday feasts, cold weather entertaining, and every day meals featuring fall’s bounty. I have ideas bouncing around in my head for easy homemade biscuits, mushroom gravy, cranberry muffins, and autumn veggie patties to go anywhere a meat-eater would use turkey. But before that, I’m going to share a simple recipe for one of my favorite fall produce items, spaghetti squash. For years I’ve been roasting spaghetti squash to use in place of pasta. Once you have this simple roasting technique down that creates the thin pasta-like flesh of this squash variety, the possibilities are endless. Top the spaghetti-like strands of squash with any pasta sauce and you’ve got a guilt-free, gluten-free bowl of pasta-ish deliciousness. Continue reading “Simply Roasted Spaghetti Squash”

Diner Favorite: Portobello Patty Melts

Diner Favorite: Portobello Patty Melts

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Oh man, what a busy week it has been. Parents in town visiting me and my sister in NYC and unexpected dramas have kept me from cooking (and blogging). Not that I’m complaining. One of the best parts about mom and dad in town is the food; my mom’s cooking, trying new restaurants, and visiting old favorites too. But now it’s calming down and I can get back in the kitchen. Which brings me to last night’s dinner, a total winner if I do say so myself. These vegetarian-friendly patty melts have most of the elements of a traditional American diner patty melt; griddled rye bread encasing sweet caramelized onions, two kinds of melty cheese, and homemade “secret sauce”. The only difference is that I subbed roasted mushroom caps for the traditional hamburger patty. Such a simple swap and voila, I’m able to enjoy a classic American sandwich while sticking to my meat-free diet. Phenomenal. Continue reading “Diner Favorite: Portobello Patty Melts”

Classic Vegetarian Chili

Classic Vegetarian Chili

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Although the official first day of fall isn’t until Wednesday, today is the first day that truly feels like the summer is coming to a close. While walking from the subway to my office building this morning, I actually regretted wearing a warm weather outfit. I guess that makes this an appropriate day to share my ultimate recipe for a cold weather favorite, Classic Vegetarian Chili. Continue reading “Classic Vegetarian Chili”