Eggplant

A Vegetarian Take on a Lobster Roll That Anyone Will Love

September  3, 2019

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst—we don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re making a vegetarian take on lobster rolls.


It’s easy to assume that a lobster roll is all about the lobster, which has skyrocketed in popularity over the years. In the 1600s, this crawly crustacean—then used as fish bait—was called the “cockroach of the sea.” Over four centuries later, it goes for $14.99/pound, and is synonymous with luxury. In “Shake Ya Bum Bum,” Lil’ Kim raps, “No more franks for this ma, now it's lobster.”

But what makes lobster so much better than franks? Its flavor is as mild as a chicken breast and its texture significantly chewier. And it’s pretty darn fussy to cook yourself.

Don’t get me wrong: If I’m at the shore, I’m more than happy to order a lobster roll (or a lobster-BLT) at a local sandwich shop. But you’d be hard-pressed to find me making one at home. Which is why my new favorite “lobster” roll recipe doesn’t actually have any lobster. It has eggplant.

At a glance, lobster and eggplant couldn’t be more different. One is red, the other purple. One is a crustacean, the other a vegetable. One is usually expensive, the other couldn’t be cheaper. But both have a subtle-sweet flavor and chewy-meets-tender consistency. And both remind me that, even though Labor Day has come and gone, it’s still technically summer.

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Top Comment:
“Not sure where your grumpiness is coming from man. The headline is "A Vegetarian Take on a Lobster Roll" and the actual recipe is entitled "Roasted Eggplant Rolls." The headline may be intended to draw in people looking for something in the lobster roll neighborhood, but it's in no way misleading, and the actual recipe title does "call it what it is."”
— kayn
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Some recipes will tell you that peeling eggplant is necessary because the skin is unbearably bitter. But to me, it’s less bitter than radicchio, and I love radicchio. In this case, keeping the skin boosts the color contrast on the dish, a lot like lobster chunks with their rosy outsides and creamy white middles.

A lot of recipes will also tell you to salt the eggplant, let it weep (did you know eggplant is mostly water?), then towel it dry. This, I always do. It takes a Queer Eye episode’s worth of planning ahead and a few minutes of active work. The return is briney, well-seasoned eggplant, almost as if it grew from the ocean, creamier texture, and better browning.

Bonus: You don't have to worry about the eggplant scurrying off your cutting board or pinching you! Photo by Bobbi Lin. PROP STYLIST: BROOKE DEONARINE. FOOD STYLIST: ANNA BILLINGSKOG.

How long to roast the eggplant is up to you. Less time means a more toothsome bite, much like plump chunks of lobster. More time yields something that will get you closer to eggplant dip when mixed, which is wonderful in its own way.

Beyond the eggplant, these rolls follow classic lobster roll protocol: Buttered, toasted, split-top hot dog buns. (The split-top, also known as New England–style, is distinguished by its flat sides, all the better for griddling.) A mostly-mayo dressing—with lemon, salt, and pepper—and not too much of it. And itty-bitty diced celery. I like mixing some into the roasted eggplant salad and sprinkling the rest on top for a pop of green.

Like a lobster roll, these are best while the buns are still toasty and melty. Unlike a lobster roll, you’ll find me making them at home, year round, and on a whim.

What's your favorite eggplant recipe right now? Let us know in the comments!

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Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.

10 Comments

Shelley M. September 4, 2019
Made it last night and loved it. Did it taste like lobster? No, but it was a very good sandwich indeed!
Someone mentioned a zucchini 'crabcake'. Thats funny, Ive always thought fried zucchini tasted like seafood.
 
Rhonda S. September 4, 2019
Sounds delicious. I've been allergic to shellfish since I was 18. Sad, but true. I'm looking forward to trying real soon. Ad banner is over comment area. 😳
 
Kay G. September 3, 2019
These sound great. I make zucchini artichoke "crab cakes" that are yummy. I wonder how they would be with eggplant.
 
Rhonda S. September 4, 2019
Sounds good! Can you please share your recipe? Thanks.
 
Kay G. September 4, 2019
It can be made with just zucchini which I usually do when I have a bumper crop but artichoke hearts and hearts of palm can be added. I like the flavor the artichokes provide and the crab like texture of the hearts of palm. They r expensive though so often don't use them.
U can find many vegan crabcake recipes on line that can be modified to include zucchini or just use it exclusively. Texture won't resemble crab so much but the flavor is the same. I like to use kelp and old bay seasoning and a little finely chopped parsley. I grate the zucchini on the fine side of grater. Squeeze out excess moisture. My original zuke crabcake recipe didn't use chickpeas but I find them a nice addition. U can also find faux tuna salad on line too made w/chickpeas.
 
Nick M. September 3, 2019
If there's no lobster it's not a lobster roll. Just please call it what it is
 
kayn September 3, 2019
Not sure where your grumpiness is coming from man. The headline is "A Vegetarian Take on a Lobster Roll" and the actual recipe is entitled "Roasted Eggplant Rolls." The headline may be intended to draw in people looking for something in the lobster roll neighborhood, but it's in no way misleading, and the actual recipe title does "call it what it is."
 
Nancy September 3, 2019
PS Emma - the veg lobster roll sounds great! On my list to make.
 
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Emma L. September 3, 2019
Thanks, Nancy!
 
Nancy September 3, 2019
Sabich (Iraqi roasted eggplant sandwich), served as a buffet to make your own selections and proportions. Pita, hard cooked egg, amba, tahina, pickles, Cole slaw.