Vegan: Meta-Eggplant Sandwich with Rich Tomato Sauce
Note: For the four weeks between January 14th and February 11th, I'm adopting a completely vegan lifestyle. Every weekday I'll be updating my progress with a diary entry and a recipe. For past posts, check here!
If there's one thing I miss more than anything when it comes to being vegan, it's cheese. Taking a look at Ed's glorious looking eggplant parm sandwich from Rubirosa last week, my craving almost led me to cheat before I came to my senses.
I've still yet to find a good cheese alternative (the vegan stuff is pretty universally abhorrent and I haven't developed a taste for nutritional yeast as some have suggested), but legitimately tasty vegan mayonnaise was a big step towards adding some creaminess back to my meals (avocados are another fine source of the texture).
So after discovering how delicious eggplant-based mayonnaise is (or more accurately, after my wife confirmed it to me), I put two and two together and decided to make a fried eggplant sandwich smothered in rich tomato sauce, and drizzled with a mayonnaise made out of itself.
This is a sandwich even an omnivore can get into.
The eggplant slices get salted then breaded in breadcrumbs (make sure you get a vegan brand! Some seasoned Italian crumbs and some brands of Japanese-style panko are not vegan). Instead of egg as the adhesive, I use a simply seasoned flour and water slurry. It cooks up almost crunchy-crisp and quite frankly makes me wonder why I bother with eggs in normal breading.
The sauce is a very basic marinara: really good olive oil, some garlic, some dried oregano, a pinch of pepper flakes, a can of whole tomatoes, and plenty of time. I like to layer the fried eggplant slices with the tomato sauce and eggplant mayo (made from roasted eggplant and oil), giving the whole construction a bit of a rest before eating so that the sauce can soak into the breading. You end up with bites that are delightfully crisp in parts and soft, rich, and bread-y in others.
And, since I happened to have a whole lot of pizza bianca around this week, why not use some for the sandwich?
The overall recipe is pretty involved, but you end up with more eggplant mayo than you need, and the stuff goes great on salads and sandwiches, or in dips.
Next question: can you make mayonnaise out of an eggplant sandwich to put on another eggplant sandwich?
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About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.