The uniquely colored eggplant is a vegetable that can be tricky to cook properly. But, I do think it should be cooked and not eaten raw. Eggplant, or aubergine, is a nightshade vegetable that contains the toxin solamine. Solamine is known to cause gastrointestinal discomfort and joint pain in some people. I am one of those people, so I have a habit of overcooking eggplant until it is mushy and not very pleasant in texture.
I didn’t cook eggplant for a long time. Then, I got my air fryer and finally found a way to cook eggplant quickly at a high heat, resulting in a firmer bite and no loss of flavor. I am so enamored with the array of purple, white, and striped varieties of this vegetable at the farmers market.
As you probably know, eggplant does not inherently have a lot of flavor and will easily take on whatever you season it with. Salt is a good starting point. A blend of Italian herbs is particularly good on eggplant. It also takes well to Asian condiments, such as teriyaki, tamari, sesame oil, and pickled ginger.
Classic Preparations of Eggplant
Eggplant is excellent when sautéed with just herbs and extra virgin olive oil. You can take sautéed eggplant and use it to make caponata or ratatouille. Caponata is a traditional Italian spread or warm salad for eating with toasted bread slices. Ratatouille is a Provencal simmering stew of eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, aromatics, and herbs.
Eggplant can be roasted or smoked until soft and then blended with tahini and lemon into a Middle Eastern dip known as baba ganoush. This is commonly served with soft pita bread wedges.
Eggplant parmesan is an irresistible layered dish with cheese and tomato sauce that resembles lasagna. Eggplant replaces the pasta. The eggplant is first fried with flour and/or breadcrumbs to help it hold up while the dish is baking. This is a great dish for vegetarians.
The first recipe outlined below is for air fryer “sautéed” style eggplant cubes with Italian herbs that can be eaten as a side dish or used to make caponata. The next recipe is for a healthier version of eggplant parmesan. There is no frying of the eggplant in oil. Instead, it is air fried and transformed into individual mini pizzas topped with tomato sauce and cheese. These make a great appetizer or a nutritious snack for picky little eaters.
Eggplant Bites with Italian Herbs (Paleo, Keto, & Vegan Compliant)
- 1 medium to large eggplant cut into 1 inch cubes, skin on
- 2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp dried basil
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
Total time:15 min – Prep time:5 min – Cook time:10 min – Serves:2 people
1. In a large bowl, toss together the eggplant, olive oil, garlic powder, basil, oregano, salt, pepper, and pepper flakes.
2. Preheat the air fryer to 390°F.
3. Add the eggplant to the fryer basket or crisper plate. Cook for 5 minutes. Shake the bucket or drawer to rotate the eggplant. Continue to cook for 3 to 5 minutes longer until the eggplant is browned and softened. (I found that 8 minutes rendered al-dente bites and 10 minutes gave me softer pieces that were perfect for caponata).
4. Serve immediately with your meal. Or, make into caponata (see recipe below).
Eggplant Caponata (Vegetarian)
- 1 lb air fried eggplant, approximately 2 solid cups
- 2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 1 red bell pepper, seeds removed and diced
- 1/2 cup pitted green and black olives, chopped
- 1/4 cup capers
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 small loaf of Italian bread, sliced and toasted
Total time: 35 min – Prep time: 15 min – Cook time: 20 min – Serves: 4 to 6 people
1. In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil, onions, and garlic. Cook until just translucent and fragrant, approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Add the red bell peppers and cook for approximately 5 minutes more until softened. Stir in the diced tomatoes and cook through for an additional 5 minutes.
2. Stir in the cooked eggplant, chopped olives, and capers. Cook for an additional 5 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper.
3. Serve as a chunky dip or warm salad with toasted bread slices. This can be served as bruschetta appetizers.
Eggplant Parmesan Pizza Rounds (Vegetarian)
- 1 large eggplant, approximately 1 pound
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 whole eggs, beaten
- 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1 tsp dried Italian seasoning blend
- Olive oil spray or pump
- 1 cup jarred or homemade pizza sauce (recipe follows for homemade)
- 1/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 3 TBS grated parmesan cheese
Total time: 25 min – Prep time: 15 min – Cook time: 10 min per batch – Serves: 4 people
1. Slice the eggplant into roughly 1/2 inch thick rounds. Season the slices on both sides with salt and set aside for 10 minutes.
2. In 3 separate shallow bowls, place the flour, beaten eggs, and bread crumbs. Add the Italian seasoning to the bread crumbs and mix to combine. In a fourth bowl, combine the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses and set aside.
3. Preheat the air fryer to 360°F.
4. In batches of 4 to 6 each, dip the eggplant slices in the flour to coat. Shake off the excess flour. Dip each in the eggs followed by the bread crumb mixture to coat.
5. Spray the air fryer basket or plate with oil. Place the breaded eggplant slices in the fryer basket or on the crisper plate. Give the rounds a little spray of oil. Cook for approximately 8 minutes or until golden and crispy on the outside. Open the air fryer and top each slice of crispy eggplant with a spoonful of marinara sauce. Top the sauce with the cheese blend to cover. Cook until the cheese just melts, approximately 1 to 2 minutes.
6. Serve immediately as a snack and continue to cook the remaining slices of eggplant.
Quick Marinara Sauce
- 1 TBS extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 large onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried basil
- Small pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1 (15 ounce) can of tomato sauce
- 1/2 tsp turbinado sugar
- Salt and pepper to taste
Total time: 35 min – Prep time: 10 min – Cook time: 25 min – Serves: 4 people
1. In a medium saucepot on medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and cook until it just starts to brown, approximately 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, basil, and cayenne and cook until just aromatic, approximately 1 minute.
2. Add the tomato sauce and sugar. Bring the sauce to a rolling simmer. Turn the heat to low. Cover the pot and simmer for approximately 15 minutes until the sauce thickens. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Continue to simmer for 5 to 10 minutes longer if not thick enough to sit on top of the eggplant.