Crispy Eggplant Parmesan Salad

   As I’ve done before, I enjoy taking classic dishes and either give them a twist or recreate them entirely using the component ingredients and make a salad. I’ve been thinking of how to recreate the classic dish Eggplant Parmesan as a salad. I initially tried to do a baked crispy eggplant cutlet as the central component. I couldn’t get a texture that I enjoyed, so it was to the fryer I went. As with anything fried, it’s always amazing.

   To incorporate many of the classic flavours of an eggplant parmesan, I needed to think beyond the eggplant itself. The sauce usually has onion, celery, carrot, tomato and oregano components. Firstly, I decided on a Fresh Tomato Salsa. A roasted tomato base that is subsequently simmered with oregano and onions and finished with more fresh tomato.

   Next, the celery flavour was incorporated by infusing the frying oil with fresh lovage, an herb with notes of celery. The flavour not only infuses the oil, but the subsequent crispy leaves make a delicious garnish at the end.

   Finally, the carrot was shaved and quick-pickled and accented the top of the crispy fried eggplant to take the edge off of the fattiness of the frying.

   But what about parmesan? Yes, the name is “parmesan,” but its origins aren’t actually from the Parma region of Italy. Oftentimes, the cheese can be used in both the traditional Italian and Italian-American versions, but the main  cheese used is mozzarella. I decided that the longer cooking of eggplant gives the gooey-ness of a mozzarella and the lightest shaving of cheese is all that is necessary for a salad. I used a locally produced, garlic-infused pecorino to give that cheesy accent to the end of the dish.

Crispy Eggplant Parmesan Salad

For the Fresh Tomato Salsa:

2 large or 3 medium tomatoes, halved

1/2 tsp cold pressed canola oil

1/2 cup chopped red onion

1 Tbsp fresh oregano or 1-1/2 tsp dry oregano

12-15 cherry tomatoes, halved

   Preheat an oven to 200C/425F. Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper.

   Place the tomatoes, cut side down on the prepared baking sheet and bake on the lower rack of the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes. Take out of the oven, pinch the skins off with tongs (the skin should slide off easily) and transfer the roasted tomatoes to a blender. Purée until nearly smooth (a few small chunks are okay).

   Heat the oil over medium heat in a small saucepan. Add the onions and sauté until softened but not browned (about 4-5 minutes). Pour the tomato purée into the small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon over the course of 25-30 minutes until the mixture thickens. Transfer to a medium bowl and allow to cool. Fold in the halved cherry tomatoes and set aside.

For the Quick Carrot Pickle

1 tsp vinegar

2 medium carrots, peeled and shaved, then julienned

   In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and shaved carrot. Toss gently with your fingers and allow to pickle for 20 minutes. Drain off the vinegar and set aside.

For the Crispy Eggplant Cutlets:

1 330g/12 oz eggplant, cut into 1-1/2 cm (3/4″) slices (peel it first if you want a clean breading, personally I like the variable texture that the fried skin brings to the dish)

1/3 cup flour (I used spelt flour but all purpose flour/plain flour is fine)

1 large egg + 3 Tbsp water

3/4 cup fine dry breadcrumbs

1 Tbsp fresh oregano leaves, torn

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

1/2 tsp hot Hungarian paprika (or other chilli powder)

1 tsp salt

Oil for frying (about 2 cups)

1/4 cup of mixed fresh herbs (I used sorrel-a lemony flavoured herb, lovage-a celery flavoured herb, and sage)

   In three small bowls, add the flour to one, egg beaten with water in another bowl and the breadcrumbs, oregano, thyme, paprika and salt in the third bowl. Dredge each eggplant slice in flour, then egg/water mixture, then in the herb/spice breadcrumbs. Set aside for at least 20 minutes to ensure the breading adheres properly before frying.

   To fry, heat the oil in a wok or large pot with a thermometer immersed. As the temperature goes past 120C/250F, add the fresh sorrel, lovage and sage. Continue to heat the oil to a temperature of 190C/370F. Fry the herbs for another minute or so, then remove them and drain on paper towels. Fry the breaded eggplant slices, three or four at a time, until deeply golden on one side. Flip, and as you see the temperature start to recover (it will dip slightly as you fry initially), it will become deeply golden on the other side. Leave it to fry for an extra 90 seconds or so to cook the eggplant itself a little extra. The breading may appear a little darker than a usual fried cutlet, but this will make sure that the interior cooks to a creamy texture. Set aside in a warm place, draining on paper towels, as you assemble the salad.

For the salad:

Prepared Fresh Tomato Salsa

Crispy Eggplant Cutlets

Quick Carrot Pickles

Reserved fried herb leaves

Grated pecorino cheese (or parmesan if you like it more traditional)

   On three plates, spoon a third of the Fresh Tomato Salsa in a ring around the outer edge of each plate. Stack three fried cutlets in the middle of the empty central area of each plate. Top each cutlet stack with a small pinch of Quick Carrot Pickle and a few crumbles of fried herb. Finish with a grating of fresh pecorino cheese. Serves 3.

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