Monday, January 13, 2014

Recipe of the Week- Eggplant Lasagna


Eggplant Lasagna






So, my first experience with eggplant was in Kindergarten. Let's just say it didn't end very well...

I can remember it so vividly... We had a vegetable taste-testing party in my Kindergarten class. There were stations set up around the classroom displaying all the different color varieties of vegetables and we had some adult volunteers helping convince the students to try them. My stomach kinda hurts just writing this and thinking of the memory. I wasn't a huge fan of vegetables at that age, which is not too uncommon for the typical 4-5 year old. I walked from table to table pretending I was interested and hoping that no one would notice that I hadn't actually tried a vegetable yet. But, and I'm keeping it real here, I was the only black/African American/ kid of color in the class. And I rarely ever went unnoticed. My impending doom was inevitable. I see an adult walking up to me- plate in hand. She leans over to my level. Smile on face. I get nervous- my heart starts to beat really fast. I see a purple and white object and I already decide in my mind that I'm not going to try it. Before she says anything I politely decline with a "no thank you."

And I thought that would be enough, but she grabs the teacher and says, "I haven't seen Mary try anything today yet. Mary, you have to try at least one thing today. Let it be this eggplant here."

Tears well up in my eyes. I was really upset about this. And then they begin to bring up the possibility of my recess being taken away. I was devastated. I felt I had no choice. I take a bite... and gag... and feel my stomach flop... and then... well I'm sure you can guess what happened after that. I guess I just wasn't ready.

I'm really learning now, especially as a dietitian working with young kids everyday, why it's so important to not force or pressure kids to eat foods they are not ready to eat. It took me until I was in my late teens, early 20s to really have a healthy relationship with vegetables.

So, 


I've had eggplant since, but heavily disguised in other foods and sauces. And this was my first time giving it a go and actually trying to cook it at home. This recipe also disguises the eggplant pretty well. I need that still. I will always eat my vegetables because I have to, but I want to learn to cook them in ways that make me want to eat them. I feel a little silly writing this, but... I did not know that eggplant had little seeds inside! The longer the flesh is exposed to air the browner it becomes- This eggplant cooking thing was a whole new experience for me.









Ingredients

1 large eggplant
30 oz jar of organic tomato basil marinara sauce
1/4 cup of freshly chopped cilantro
1 pound cottage cheese- I prefer cottage cheese to ricotta because it keeps my lasagna more moist
1/4 cup freshly chopped parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 pound of ground turkey
1 cup low-fat shredded mozzarella cheese

optional sauce additives: 
1/2 chopped onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
salt and pepper to taste. 

I like to add these to make my sauce really rich. I have yet to find a sauce that is exceptional straight out of the jar. Hopefully one day I will try making my own sauce from scratch. 

Preparation
Preheat oven to 375 Degrees Fahrenheit. Slice eggplant into very thin rounds. Some people like to coat their eggplant slices with olive oil and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes to soften eggplant skin which can be very chewy. I did not do this and my lasagna was still delicious. I liked the chewiness of the skin- it was not too tough and still very easy to cut through. In a shallow pan, brown ground turkey. Once brown, add marinara sauce and optional sauce additives until sauce reaches desired flavor. While sauce is cooking, prepare cheese layer  mixture in medium- sized bowl by adding cottage cheese, fresh parmesan, cilantro, salt, and pepper.  Once sauce has simmered and cooked for about 15-20 minutes, in a rectangular baking pan, coat bottom with thin layer of ground turkey sauce. Add a layer of eggplant rounds on top. On top of eggplant, spread half of cheese mixture to cover all of eggplant layer. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top of cottage cheese mixture. Add sauce again, then eggplant, then the remaining cheese to replicate the previous sequence layer. Add one last layer of eggplant to top of lasagna and bake in oven until golden brown ~45 minutes. I filled my pan too full and it spilled over! Sprinkle a layer of cheese on the very top for the last 10-15 minutes of baking time help seal the deal!




Bon App├ętit!

xoxo Mary

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