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Simple Sides: Eggplant

By Dennis Linden
Image of recurring kids
Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a little planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where adult attention might be especially needed.

Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic -- this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach children some basic cooking skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever.

Here’s a very simple and healthy Eggplant Parmesan recipe that will not only teach your young kitchen helpers the basics of preparing this iconic dish, but also gets the family working together. Meaning, the kids can do the measuring, slicing and mixing of each component, then hand off the oven and stovetop tasks to the supervising adult. Great fun for all; there is even a role in this one for very young sous chef, as anyone can tear oregano leaves off their stems.
Image of eggplant
Instead of dredging slices of eggplant through flour, egg and breadcrumbs, then frying the rounds in oil, the recipe substitutes a very basic tomato sauce and a quick bake in the oven for half the calories. Low-fat mozzarella cheese, mixed with a little Parmesan for flavor and sprinkled in moderation over the top, supports a much healthier option to this time-honored dish.

In fact, this recipe could become a “legacy dish” that your kitchen helpers could very well revisit in years to come as it was for this writer. Admittedly, the more fattening version of Eggplant Parmesan was a part of my own childhood’s early culinary lessons in my mother’s kitchen. Subsequently, I remember practically living on the dish during my second year of college in my first apartment kitchen – it was one of the few things I knew how to cook! So, you might approach this dish with your kids as sort of preparing them for college!

Lite Eggplant Parmesan
Serves 4

2 pounds Eggplant, sliced
½ inch thick crosswise (12-16 pieces)
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
Coarse Salt and Ground Pepper
1 cup Non-Fat Milk
3 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
2 Garlic cloves, minced, fresh or jarred
1 jar (24 ounces) Premium Tomato Pasta Sauce
½ cup Fresh Oregano Leaves, chopped
½ cup grated or shredded part-Skim Mozzarella Cheese
½ cup grated or shredded Parmesan Cheese

What the kids can do:
Prepare or measure out all ingredients before start of preparation.

Brush eggplant on both sides with oil, season with salt and pepper, then brush again as oil is absorbed quickly by the eggplant.
Image of baked eggplant slices
Arrange eggplant on two rimmed baking sheets and hand off to supervising adult for baking.
Image of measured ingredients for sauce
In a medium saucepan not on heat, whisk together ¼ cup milk, flour, and garlic, oregano. Gradually whisk in remaining ¾ cup milk and ½ cup pasta sauce, then hand this off for stovetop cooking. Spread enough of the marinara sauce to cover the bottom of a shallow 2-quart baking dish. Place one layer of baked eggplant on top of marinara sauce, cover with the pink sauce. Place a second slice of eggplant on top of first and top with more pink sauce.
Image of eggplant stacks with sauce and mozzarella/parmesan mixture
Sprinkle each stack with the mozzarella and Parmesan mixture.

What the supervising adult should do:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. Bake until golden brown and very tender, 20 to 25 minutes, turning slices and rotating sheets halfway through. Bring sauce pan of pink sauce to a boil; reduce to a simmer, and cook until sauce has thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Image of served eggplant Parmesan
Bake final assembly on upper rack until cheese is slightly browned and bubbling, approx. 10 to 15 minutes.
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