I love experimenting with plant based proteins, from their whole original form (ex beans, lentils, tofu) to the number of interesting 'plants masquerading as meat' type products available. Not all of them are great; some of them focus too much on looking like meat that they forget to taste good, or they're basically just salt. Some options though are quite good and make it easy to incorporate more plant based meals in your diet. One of my favourites (and no this is not sponsored or anything like that) is Big Mountain Foods Cauli Crumble. I like that it's basically just lentils and because it tastes really good. If you're exploring plant based meals, I think stuffed vegetables is a great place to start. You can play around with lots of flavour combinations and tasty ingredients, and when in doubt you can always hide behind cheese.
Eggplant is a fairly meaty vegetable and therefore often shows up in meatless meals. When nicely roasted they are quite luxurious as well; silky and smooth but sturdy enough to hold their own (and a filling to!). For this recipe, I kept flavours in the Italian realm, though I have done a variety of things with this type of dish. I found it super comforting and satisfying but still 'light' enough for spring.
So here goes!
6 small eggplant, halved lengthwise and scored
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 chili pepper or 1 tsp chili flakes, optional
2 tbsp tomato paste, optional
1 package vegetarian ground meat, such as Big Mountain Foods Cauli Crumble
1 400mL can whole peeled plum tomatoes, crushed OR about 1.5 cups passata
salt and pepper to taste
about 2-3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
about 1 cup grated parmigiano cheese
about 1 cup grated pecorino cheese, or more parm
about 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
about 1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
Preheat your oven to 375F. Please eggplant on a baking tray or dish and season with salt, pepper and dried oregano. Drizzle olive oil all over and roast to soften as you prepare the filling. They will take about 40 minutes to get nice and soft.
In a sautee pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and salt and pepper. Sautee until soft but not too browned (you don't want them to be crispy). Add chili if using, and garlic. Sautee briefly before adding tomato paste and cook out until it appears dark and sticky. Add the ground meat substitute. Sautee briefly, though typically these are already cooked and don't need much time here. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper. Allow to cook until some of the liquid is reduced and the raw flavour subsides.
Remove the eggplant from the oven and use the back of a spoon to push the flesh down and to the sides to make space for the filling. Take the pan of filling off the heat and add most of the cheeses and all of the parsley. Mix well and taste for seasoning. Fill the eggplant boats with the filling. Top with the remaining cheeses and the breadcrumbs. Drizzle olive oil all over and return to the oven until the cheese melts and starts to brown, about 10-15 minutes. They will be super hot when you pull them out of the oven so give them a second to cool, then enjoy!