All of the cooking here is centered around getting the eggplant and tomatoes to the right texture so that when you fuse them, neither the sauce is watery nor the eggplant soggy. Nancy Jo accomplishes this by baking slabs of flour-dusted eggplant in the oven with just a trace of oil. They come out as stiff as cards. And the tomatoes are cooked down in the pan until pulpy. When the two meet in a baking dish, the eggplant soaks up some tomato juices but retains its own character so you get distinct layers. And Nancy Jo adds the mozzarella as a center layer, so you get the warm melted cheese right in the belly of the dish. Use fresh mozzarella, which is creamy and even a little sweet.
We found a serrated vegetable peeler was the easiest way to peel the eggplant.
Perfectly even slices of eggplant -- nice, Merrill!
As we layered the eggplant in a colander, we salted each layer.
Weighing down the eggplant forces out some of the extraneous liquid. In addition to the can of tomatoes, we also added a quart of boxed chicken stock.
The simple sauce involved only hot olive oil, freshly sliced garlic, and San Marzano tomatoes. Oh, and salt. Of course.
To break down the tomatoes, Amanda used her favorite potato masher. Given any excuse, she will use the potato masher...
After the eggplant had drained for about an hour, Merrill dried off each piece.
Then, we lightly floured the slices, tapping off the excess.
The slices browned on the bottom first, so be sure to check them by flipping them over.
The eggplant may not look promising at this stage, but the payoff comes later.
Nancy Jo calls for a 7x11 baking dish. We used one that was slightly larger and ended up with fewer layers, but it was delicious, and the edges were delightfully crispy.
After 2/3 of the eggplant had been layered with sauce and Parmesan, we added the buffalo mozzarella.
As you can see, all the layers are beautifully integrated.
Japanese eggplant has firmer flesh than regular eggplant, which means it holds up when stewed. We're not sure if that's why luvcookbooks calls for this type, but it works really well here as you simmer slices of the eggplant with canned tomatoes, onion and a mix of spices, including cumin, mustard seeds, coriander and garam masala. Luvcookbooks has you toast the spices and brown the onion, which gives it a richness and sweetness that permeates the dish. Then you add the eggplant and tomatoes and cook them until the eggplant is tender. (You'll need to add water a few times to keep the pan from drying out.) In less than 20 minutes, you'll have a wonderful, fragrant dish that would be great with grilled lamb or roasted chicken.
Toasting the cumin and mustard seeds helps release the flavor.
Luvcookbooks says that sauteeing the onions until they're deep brown really brings out the flavor. (it does!)
The skin of the eggplant had started to brown, and the insides had begun to soften, so we added the tomatoes, spices, and minced chili.
As we cooked the eggplant, the pan did become a touch dry, so we ended up adding a little water to keep it from burning.
Adjusting the seasoning...
We piled it into a bowl and served it with some Greek yogurt. A perfect lunch.