Friday, January 06, 2012

Eggplant Casserole

I've been trying to make healthier foods. Meals that are Dukan-friendly. Cause that works well for me and the fireman for losing weight and keeping that weight off.

I truly believe it's healthier, because it's low in fat and low in carbohydrates. Carbs aren't bad, but I really believe we don't need as much as we are used to eating, in our society.

Wheat is much different today than it was when we first starting introducing it into our diets. 

Carbs are great when you're trying to stretch a meal. Add a potato, or rice to soup or stew and it's thicker, richer and people get full faster. That was really important when there wasn't much food to go around and everyone worked physically hard.

I don't work physically hard.

I excercise 3 times per week. It's a modest workout. I want to do as little as possible to get maximum results, a little cardio, a little weight work on arms, ab work and thigh work. Done. Oh, and occasionally Yoga for stretching and relaxing. I have a beginners DVD I use.

It works for me. That being said, every body is different and I think there's a lot to that. What works for one doesn't always work for another. I think some bodies just don't do as well with certain foods.

So, last night I wanted lasagna. Since I'm back on my Dukan diet for a couple of weeks to shed some holiday pounds, I couldn't have the noodles.

I thought about making a messy casserole thing without noodles at all, just meat, sauce and ricotta. It would be spoonable and totally fine.

And I'll probably try that sometime in the future. But last night, I wanted to try something different.

I used eggplant for the noodles.

Now, I have to say something. If you think the eggplant will taste like noodles, it totally won't. Don't do that.

If you like eggplant and want to make a casserole with said eggplant (or zucchini), do that. I'll show you how.

It doesn't taste like, or really have the texture of noodles, but it gives a little body to the casserole instead of just a bowl of meat & veggies.

But there's another hurdle. Eggplant has a lot of moisture to it. So, you gotta dry it out some.

Some people cut it and salt it and press it to get moisture out. Some people bake it a bit.

I tried both! I peeled the eggplant and cut it in thin slices. I found while eating, that the slices that were thicker, tasted better. So, go with a good 1/4 inch slice. Don't skimp. I tried some slices both ways to test it. The thinner ones just got rubbery, while the thicker slices had a nice tooth to them and a nice little eggplant taste. Zucchini would work well here, if you don't like the taste of eggplant and like zucchini.

Also, don't be like me. I thought I was being super smart and cut lengthwise down the eggplant. Trying to get longer, thinner slices. But it didn't work that well, obviously. And since the thicker slices worked better, I would say to cut the eggplant width-wise, into nice circles. Also, I wasn't sure what the seeds would taste like in the lasagna casserole. I couldn't really tell they were there. So, don't worry about that.

So, yours will undoubtably look nicer than mine. Nice round slices. Please. Do it for me.

Then come on here and tell me about it. Tell me you outdid me. I'll be happy for you. Promise.

I used my toaster oven, but you could set a rack on a cookie sheet and bake in a regular oven. I spritzed it with oil and lightly salted it. Or just place directly on a lightly oiled cookie sheet and flip after 5 minutes. I baked at 400 for 10 minutes.

See? The thin ones got kinda dark and crispy. They tasted good, though, so I wouldn't know until it was all done that they didn't fare quite as well in the baking.

While that baked, I browned up a pound of 93% lean hamburger and added a can of prepared marinara. I used Hunts cause it only had 9 grams of carbs per 1/2 cup of sauce. It was the lowest I could find. I would have liked diced tomatoes in it, but the flavor was good. Next time, I'll just add a can.

Then, I mixed up a container of part skim ricotta cheese, with 1 egg, 1/2 teaspoon of dried garlic,  and 1/2 teaspoon of italian seasonings.

Mix this well.

I used a 9x9 pan, layering with the eggplant first, then, spooned half of the ricotta cheese out, dotting it over the eggplant. Gently use the back of a spoon to spread the ricotta cheese to coat the eggplant as a nice layer. Sprinkle on parmesan cheese, and toss some part skim mozzerella cheese on top. Less than 1/2 cup. I went light on the cheese, cause it's not as low fat as the hamburger.
Then throw half of the meat mixture on top, then repeat, ending in meat mixture. Sprinkle with just a bit extra of the mozz and parm.

Looks nice! Cover with foil.

I baked mine at 400 for 30 min, then took the foil off and let the cheese get all melty for about 5 min at the same 400.
The sauce was bubbling away and smelled great!

I used my toaster oven for this, so I didn't have to heat the entire oven for my little test project lasagna casserole.

As you can see, there was just enough room in the 9x9.

It's heavy in protein, lots of lowfat meat, not heavy in the cheese, but what's there is part skim. An added egg adds firmness to the ricotta and protein. Veggies are always good, but this is a little less sugary.

I'd say it was a win/win.

Just don't think of it as lasagna.

Oh, and it still turned out with a bit more liquid than I wanted. You could cook down you spaghetti sauce and meat mixture over heat, without a lid, to reduce the moisture, or you could try the salt method with the eggplant.

Some recommendations I found include: Heavily salting the eggplant slices, place a rack over and under the eggplant and weigh it down to drain it. Let it sit for 30 min. Then, lightly rinse the slice an blot dry.

But it didn't bother me overly much. It still tasted good. And it hit my craving for something Italian.              

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