Great Veggie Challenge: Week 4

For six weeks, I am teaching a course at Anser Charter School in Boise called the Great Veggie Challenge for students in grades 1-3. The course description opens by saying:

Are you ready to take the challenge and prove to yourself and your parents that you can eat – and actually like – vegetables? During this course, we’ll jazz up the old routine by learning how to cook traditional vegetables in new and different ways. We’ll even experiment with some mystery vegetables you may have never tasted before. 

Week Four:

Today, my impressive team of vegetable chefs worked with me to make eggplant parmesan, quite a challenge for the allotted 1 hour 45 minutes that we have for the class. I am always amazed at everyone’s willingness to chop, grate, mix, sauté and grind pepper(!), so, fortunately, we accomplished the task with a few minutes to spare.

We created our eggplant parmesan by combining sauce, cheeses and the eggplant. However, we decided to put our students to the taste test by making two different versions of the dish: a lighter, healthy version and a more traditional one.

For the tomato sauce:

  • 3-4 gloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 28 ounce can fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1-2 TBSP fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the garlic and shallots in olive oil for a couple of minutes, then add remaining ingredients. Simmer on low while eggplant is being prepared.

For the eggplant:

Slice 3 medium-sized eggplants about 1/4″ thick. Sprinkle salt on each side of the eggplant and place in a colander for 1/2 – 2 hours to remove moisture and bitter flavor. Rinse.

For the healthier version:

Place about half the eggplant on a cookie sheet and drizzle olive oil on top. Season with salt (sparingly) and pepper. Flip over eggplant repeat. Bake at 400 degrees for 22-24 minutes. About halfway through baking time, remove from oven and turn eggplant over to other side.

For the traditional version:

Set up three stations: flour seasoned with salt and pepper, (2) eggs, and panko crumbs (use fresh bread crumbs if you prefer). Cover each slice of eggplant in the flour, dip in eggs, then cover in breadcrumbs. Meanwhile, heat olive or canola oil in a skillet (enough to cover the bottom of the pan). Cook breaded eggplant in oil until browned, about five minutes per side. You will likely have to add more oil throughout the cooking as the bread crumbs soak it up!

For the cheese:

We grated parmesan (not sure how much because the kids kept grating even after we’d had enough!) and thinly sliced fresh mozzarella cheese (about 1 1/2 smaller balls).

To assemble the eggplant parmesan:

Place enough sauce to cover the bottom of a baking dish. Add one layer of eggplant. Add layer of mozzarella cheese and cover with grated parmesan. Then add sauce to cover. Add another layer of eggplant, cheese and sauce.

Note: For the “healthier” version, we also added about a tablespoon of ricotta cheese to each cheese layer. Though I am not a fan of non-fat cheeses, we actually used this for our ricotta and it tasted fine.

To bake:

Bake dishes for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees, until bubbly and slightly browned on the top.

And the results are:

We sampled the traditional version first and almost everyone gave it the big thumbs up. (One student did not particularly like the texture and taste of eggplant, but she was a great sport by trying it anyway).

Then the healthier version was ready about ten minutes later. When I took it out of the oven, I wasn’t particularly optimistic. It looked a little soggy as I am very entrenched in the old way of preparing this dish. Lo and behold, we all the second version better. Because the eggplant wasn’t as firm and dry as the breaded version, it almost tasted like pasta. We all thought the baked eggplant parmesan tasted like lasagna.

For our asparagus snack:

I knew the kiddos would be hungry by the time the main dish was ready, so we made an asparagus snack in the interim. We prepared the asparagus by snapping off the less tender ends, then adding olive oil, soy sauce and a clove of garlic. After mixing thoroughly, the asparagus was spread on a baking sheet and roasted for about 15 minutes at 400 degrees.

After removing the asparagus from the oven, we then re-mixed them with the marinade and served. The kids gave this appetizer a big thumbs up!

 Special thanks:

A special thanks to all the children who eagerly cleaned up all the dishes when we were finished!

 And dried things off in style…

Melinda Hinson