Crispy baked eggplant is one of my favorite vegetables. Now, I’ll admit that I like eggplant almost every which way. Whether it’s in a slightly spicy caponata appetizer or melded into ratatouille, I’m fine with the texture and taste. At an Italian deli, I go for an eggplant parm sub, as Carmela Soprano would have called it.
But many people aren’t eggplant fans. I know that. This crispy baked eggplant recipe is for the adventurous souls among that group – the ones who are game to try it just once more because they know it can be more than simply a vegetable with a beautiful purple skin that softens as it cooks.
Crispy Baked Eggplant has a crust that is healthier than deep fried foods, but just as tasty. The soft eggplant is there in the middle, but what you’ll notice most is the crunchy exterior, along with whichever spices and herbs you use in the coating.
This recipe uses the same breading technique as my mom’s chicken cutlets. And just like that recipe, preparation goes a lot faster and better if you lay out the 3-stages that go into creating the crust so you can do each piece assembly line-style.
Remember mise en place? It is so much easier if you gather ingredients and equipment at the beginning, instead of scrounging for an item halfway through the process. (Note to self: practice what you preach. This simple tip can be my downfall, even after decades of cooking. When I get excited to start a recipe, I sometimes get ahead of myself, only to find later that I’m missing an ingredient or looking desperately for a utensil.)
I like these eggplant slices dipped in a spicy marinara-style tomato sauce similar to the one often served with fried calamari. (Basically, that marinara is similar to Marcella Hazan’s easy tomato sauce using fresh or canned tomatoes with the addition of a small amount of crushed red pepper to add a bit of zip.) But you can serve them plain as a side dish with a simple main course, or cut them into strips (before adding the crust) to serve them as an appetizer.
The crispy baked eggplant recipe calls for a Japanese style breadcrumbs called panko. They are the key to the crunchy outside, so do not substitute “regular” breadcrumbs if you want these slices to be truly crispy. While you can, of course, buy panko at ethnic markets that carry Japanese ingredients, they are also widely available at local groceries. I find panko in boxes and tins at Safeway, Giant and Whole Foods in my neighborhood.
Crispy Baked Eggplant
Serving – 2 Cost – $3
- 1 medium eggplant (1⅓ – 1½ pounds)
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 egg
- 3 tablespoons milk (can substitute water)
- 1¼ cups panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs that are large and crunchy)
- ½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, crushed in your hands
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Optional – other herbs and spices, in small amounts, generally about ½ teaspoon.
- Cutting board
- Medium size or large knife
- Vegetable peeler or small knife
- Measuring cups
- Measuring spoons
- 3 medium-size low-sided bowls or 2 bowls and 1 plate
- Small bowl (for oil)
- Spoon or pastry brush
- Large sheet pan with silicone mat or parchment
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F
- Set out the three bowls or the plate and two bowls. Put the flour in the first bowl or the plate, the egg and water lightly beaten in the next. In the third, mix the panko, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and any optional herbs or other spices. Have the sheet pan lined with the mat or parchment handy.
- Cut off both ends of the eggplant, peel it and cut it into slices about ½ inch thick. No need to obsess – I often use my thumbnail as a gauge; you are just aiming for slices that are not too thick and relatively uniform so they will cook at the same rate.
- Now begin the breading process. Dust the first slice with flour on both sides and around the edges, then gently knock off the excess. With your (clean) hands or a fork, put that floured slice in the bowl with the egg and milk or water, turn it over to coat both sides and the edges, let the excess drip off and move it to the bowl of panko. Coat it with the panko.
- Put the slices on the sheet pan and drizzle one tablespoon of oil over them. I tried brushing it on, but that doesn’t work well with the bumpy breading. It’s simple enough to use a spoon, or a pastry brush to let the oil drip onto the slices.
- Bake for 15 minutes. the slices will be slightly but not uniformly so.
- Turn the slices over with a fork, drizzle the second tablespoon of oil on the newly upturned sides, and continue baking for another 10-15 minutes until the slices are nicely browned.