Many eggplant recipes start with slicing or dicing and sauteing in oil. But this approach can add a lot of unnecessary fat to your dish, as porous eggplant flesh absorbs oil like a sponge as it cooks, leading most of us to add more fat than we realize. Instead, consider roasting the eggplant whole.
Simply pop the entire eggplant in a hot oven – prick a few holes for steam to escape and lightly spray or rub with the tiniest bit of olive oil to keep the skin moist – and in 20-45 minutes (depending on size), your eggplant will be cooked and ready to join almost any recipe.
Besides being a healthier cooking method than frying, roasting is easier, almost completely hands-off. You can even roast the eggplant a day in advance to make weeknight meals even faster. Roast just until tender, cut up into cubes and make a stir fry, or cut roasted eggplant into large chunks and cover in marinara sauce and sprinkle of cheese and bake for a low-oil version of eggplant parm.
Or roast until completely soft, and scoop out the flesh and mix with garlic, smoked paprika, and Greek yogurt for a delicious dip. Either way, you’ll get all the benefits of eggplant, with its high fiber, low-sugar count, and wide variety of vitamins and minerals, without adding unnecessary fat. Save the fat, I say, for tasty ingredients like a modest amount of cheese.
Today’s recipe, Eggplant and Chicken Marinara, is a one-dish-wonder, where you have veggie, complex carbohydrates, and chicken all in one gorgeous dish that is simple enough for family meals, but pretty enough for company.
Leftover cooked brown rice and chicken add heft to the super-low-calorie eggplant (under 30 calories a cup), but note you can make this meatless simply by leaving out the chicken. The result is somewhere between an eggplant-chicken parm and an eggplant gratinee.
But no matter what you decide to call it, enjoy knowing your family is loading up on veggies as they dig in. Using baby eggplant or Japanese eggplant means the skin is soft enough to eat, which will only add to the nutrient profile.
EGGPLANT AND CHICKEN MARINARA
Start to finish: 1 hour, 15 minutes
4 small eggplants (“baby” or “Japanese” eggplant at the grocery store)
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 medium yellow onion, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
2 cups cubed cooked chicken breast
2 cups prepared marinara sauce (no sugar added)
3/4 cup shredded Italian cheese (half mozzarella; half parmesan), divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Fresh basil for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Rub 1 teaspoon of the olive oil over all the eggplants, prick once or twice each with a fork, and roast them on a baking sheet until soft, about 30 minutes. Allow to cool 15-30 minutes.
Once cool enough to handle, slice the eggplants in half lengthwise, and scoop out the flesh. Select the 6 prettiest eggplant skin halves for stuffing and set aside. Roughly chop the eggplant flesh into cubes (don’t worry if it’s “pulpy” from roasting and doesn’t hold a cube shape.)
In a large saute pan, cook the diced onion, salt and pepper in the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil over medium heat until soft, about 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the eggplant flesh, garlic and dried herbs and cook another 3 minutes. Add the wine and stir, allowing most to evaporate over a minute or two, and then remove from heat.
Stir in the cooked rice, the chicken, and 1/4 cup of the cheese. Taste the filling for seasoning and adjust if needed. Gently spoon the filling into the reserved 6 eggplant skin halves. Pour the marinara sauce into the large saucepan (wipe out any remaining filling first, if needed). Place the filled eggplant skins gently on top of the sauce and top with remaining shredded cheese.
Place the saucepan in the oven and bake until sauce and filling are hot and cheese is melted, about 20 minutes. Serve with fresh basil, if desired.