The Best Eggplant Parmesan | Close-Up of Melty Browned Cheese, Fresh Basil Leaves, and Eggplant

The Best Eggplant Parmesan

There’s nothing quite like a big tray of steaming Eggplant Parmesan on a cold winter’s night: gooey, stringy mozzarella and parmesan with crispy browned pockets; soft, substantive, eggplant; bright, garlicky tomato sauce. The whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts.

The Best Eggplant Parmesan | Close-Up of Melty Browned Cheese, Fresh Basil Leaves, and Eggplant

Then again, it is of crucial importance that each individual element in the dish is of highest quality. This is a mantra I take from Californian cuisine, where fresh ingredients are prepared in the simplest of ways, so that their natural flavors shine through. Eggplant Parmesan, of course, is not the simplest, with the eggplant first fried and the tomato sauce prepared before being layered with cheese and baked. Nevertheless, I feel strongly that it benefits from using the best ingredients.

Ingredients: Eggplant, Olive Oil, Canned Tomatoes

Pick eggplants that are heavy for their size. Use real Parmigiano-Reggiano. Get the best tomatoes, or, if tomatoes are not in season, use high-quality whole canned tomatoes rather than diced ones. I was lucky enough to recently travel to Italy, where I picked up several kilos of 3-year aged Parmigiano-Reggiano. You know it’s the good stuff when it has little white flecks. Not mold, these are in fact amino acid clusters, which provide crunch and are a sign of a well-aged cheese.

Parmigiano-Reggiano Close-Up showing rind, white amino acid cluster flecks

I also picked up fresh eggplants and basil from the shuk, or market. In Tel Aviv alone, a fairly small city, there are three shuks, selling all manner of produce, spices, halva, kanafahbourekas, and, at the largest, kitchen supplies, beach blankets, and touristy tchotchkes — including these hipster Ben Gurion coasters.

(If you visit Israel, you absolutely must stock up on spices at a shuk.)

The First Layer of the Best Eggplant Parmesan, with green basil, white mozzarella, red tomato sauce, and purple eggplant peeking out from beneath
Layer One of the Best Eggplant Parmesan

Israel has some of the best olive oil in the world, and although mine comes from the supermarket, it is certified by the Israeli olive oil board.

So, why is this absolutely the Best Eggplant Parmesan?

The Best Eggplant Parmesan | Close-Up of Melty Browned Cheese, Fresh Basil Leaves, and Eggplant

For one, it omits breadcrumbs. I find breadcrumbs — as in the traditional American-style Eggplant Parmesan — detract from the marriage of the three main flavors. This recipe is for a more Italian-style (although I by no means claim to be authentic) Eggplant Parmesan. Incidentally, two regions of southern Italy, Campania and Sicily, claim the dish as their own; in Italian, it is Melanzane alla Parmigiana.

Second, it fries, rather than bakes the eggplant. I saved you all the step and tested eggplant both ways. Baked is good if you’re watching your fat intake. For flavor, fried is 100% the way to go.

Third, the eggplant is pre-soaked in salt water. While conventional wisdom says to pre-salt your eggplant to draw out bitterness, in recent years many chefs and recipe developers have said this step is unnecessary. But my test revealed it is, in fact, necessary for the best texture and taste. I tested fried eggplant three ways — no pre-soak, 30-minute pre-soak, and 75-minute pre-soak. The 75-minute ones were the best, the 30-minute ones decent, and the ones without a pre-soak mediocre. We’re not making the quickest Eggplant Parmesan here, we’re making the Best Eggplant Parmesan. So pre-soak your eggplant! If you’re short on time, you can cut the pre-soak time down, but I recommend a minimum of 45 minutes. Do it while you’re making the sauce.

Eggplant Pre-Soaking Test
See, I really did test soaking the eggplant!
The Best Eggplant Parmesan - full-scale image
The Finished Product!

Without further ado, here’s the recipe:


Best Eggplant Parmesan

dairy serves 4-6

3 medium-to-large eggplants, sliced into 1/2-inch thick circles

1 cup kosher salt

Peanut oil, or other neutral oil with a high smoking point (for frying)

2 tbsp olive oil

25 g unsalted butter (about 2 tbsp)

1 onion, chopped

6 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp dried oregano

2 28-oz cans whole tomatoes

Salt and pepper, to taste

350 g low-moisture mozzarella (about 3/4 pounds, or 12 oz), torn by hand into small pieces, about 3-by-1 cm (1-by-1/2 in)

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Torn fresh basil leaves, from about 5 sprigs

Prep Eggplants

Fill two large bowls with cold water. Add 1/2 cup salt to each bowl and mix until dissolved. Add half of eggplant slices to each bowl. Leave for 75 minutes, stirring eggplants around occasionally. (You can do 45 minutes if short on time.)

Make tomato sauce

Add 1 tbsp olive oil and all the butter to a large non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. When butter is melted, add onions. Cook until onions are soft, about 5-6 minutes, stirring often. Clear a space in the center of skillet and add remaining 1 tbsp olive oil. Allow to heat for 30 seconds, then add minced garlic and oregano. Cook in oil until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Then stir garlic and oregano into cooked onions. Add tomatoes to skillet, breaking them up with your hands into small pieces. Add leftover juice from one of the cans. Turn heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

Fry the Eggplants

Pre-heat oven to 190 degrees C (375 F).

When the 75 minutes are up, drain the eggplants, rinse with cold water, then drain again. Dry with paper towels.

Set up a frying station: cast-iron skillet, bottle of oil (you will go through a lot!), large plate or platter with layer of paper towel over it, paper towel role nearby. Add oil into skillet until about 1-inch deep. Turn heat to medium-high.

When oil is shimmering, add eggplant slices. Fry until golden brown on bottom side, about 5 minutes, then flip and fry until golden brown on other side, about 3 minutes. Check eggplant frequently to ensure they are not burning, turning heat down slightly if they seem to be burning easily. When an eggplant slice is finished, remove it to the paper-towel-covered platter, then blot with another piece of paper towel. Add more oil if the level gets too low (it probably will). Continue until you have fried all the eggplant slices.

Assembly

Place a layer of eggplant slices on the bottom of a 30-by-25 cm baking dish (12-by-10 inch), or one of similar size. Top with thin layer of tomato sauce, then about 1/4 of the torn mozzarella. Add some of the basil leaves on top. Then arrange another layer of eggplant on top, continuing the process until you run out of ingredients, finishing with a thin layer of tomato sauce and mozzarella (no basil on the top layer). On top of this final layer of mozzarella, sprinkle the Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Bake until bubbling and cheese on top is browned, 20-30 minutes. Scatter fresh basil leaves on top. Let rest 10 minutes, then serve.

Oven-Baked Chicken Wings Two Ways: Lemony Greek Chicken Wings & Peanut Thai Chicken Wings

It is possible to have perfectly crispy chicken wings without frying them. And I’m here to show you how! These wings are crispy, easy, and delicious. Best of all, no need to fuss with a huge vat of boiling hot oil.

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Although Israelis love chicken, chicken wings are probably the least desired part of the bird. In fact, I’ve seen more Israelis eating chicken hearts than wings! Perhaps this is because historically in Jewish cuisine, wings were a part of the bird reserved for poor people, in a class with giblets and necks. But I’m just speculating. If anyone knows more about this cultural food phenomenon, please share in the comments!

Fortunately for wing-loving Americans like myself, this Israeli distaste for wings is reflected in the prices. You can get wings for 12 shekels a kilo, or for my American readers, about $1.50 a pound. Wings offer almost endless opportunities for customization, and at these prices, why not experiment?

So yalla! Experiment it is.

Happily, both my wing experiments turned out great.

Oven-Baked Chicken Wings with Thai Peanut Sauce | Foodie Tel Aviv

The Peanut Thai Chicken Wings are total winners. Creamy and complex, the sauce could also be used as a dip for carrots or celery, a dressing for a cabbage slaw, or a glaze for tofu. Plus, the sauce itself is parve, making these wings kosher. Note that the recipe makes a bit more sauce than you’ll need for 8 wings. The sauce was inspired by a recipe for Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce from Food Network.

But the Lemony Greek Chicken Wings may be even better! The lemon serves as a bright note that contrasts beautifully with the fatty, meaty wings. Rosemary and garlic round out the simple sauce, which comes together in just 5 minutes.

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The trick to any oven-baked chicken wings is dusting them with baking powder, then resting them, uncovered, on an oven rack in the refrigerator for a few hours. Both the baking powder and the fridge help to dry out the wings, ensuring they will be as crispy as conventionally-fried chicken wings. Kenji of Serious Eats explains the science behind this method if you want to delve in deeper. As I last took a science class junior year of high school, I will leave this one to the experts. I will say that you shouldn’t fuss if you can’t leave the wings in the fridge overnight, as Kenji recommends. Two hours is sufficient to form a perfectly crackly crust.

You want to bake the wings dry (no marinade and no sauce) to ensure you get that deep-fried texture: blistered skin, tender meat, and a satisfying crunch.

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While the wings are baking, make your chosen sauce.

For the Peanut Thai Chicken Wings, saute chopped onion and chili in peanut oil until softened and browning. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in the curry paste, soy sauce, and rice vinegar. Cook for one minute, then add peanut butter, chicken broth, and dried ginger. Taste and add Sriracha. I used 1 tsp, but you should do more if you like it super spicy. Let cool a bit and then blend the Thai peanut sauce. (If you don’t have a blender, skip this step. The flavor won’t be affected, but you won’t get a smooth texture). Stir the finished oven-baked wings with the peanut sauce, then add chopped cilantro. The cilantro provides the perfect fresh zing of citrus flavor to break up the rich and creamy peanut sauce.

For the Lemony Greek Chicken Wings, chop rosemary, mince garlic, and zest and juice a lemon. Then, heat high-quality olive oil in a non-stick pan over low heat and add all ingredients except the lemon juice. Cook, stirring often, until garlic is pale golden brown. Add in the lemon juice and stir rapidly to combine. Then pour the sauce over the finished wings. Finally, eat! Dig your teeth into crackly crunchy crispy skin, then feel it give way to delectable moist meat. Meanwhile, your taste buds are struck by the zesty, earthy sauce. And if, like us, you’re tired and eating way too late, you might just let out a satisfied moan.

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Oven-Baked Chicken Wings Two Ways: Lemony Greek Chicken Wings & Peanut Thai Chicken Wings

meat | serves 4 as a snack, or 2 for dinner

For the Wings:

8 chicken wings (about 700 grams, or 1.5 pounds)

1 tbsp baking powder

For the Lemony Greek Sauce:

1/2 cup high-quality extra-virgin olive oil

6 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup chopped fresh rosemary

zest from 1/2 lemon

3 tbsp lemon juice, or to taste

For the Peanut Thai Sauce:

2 tbsp peanut oil

1/2 medium onion, chopped

1 small chili / hot red pepper

5 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 tbsp red curry paste (I used Mae Ploy brand)

1 + 1/2 tbsp soy sauce

3 tbsp rice vinegar

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 tsp ground ginger

Sriracha to taste (I used 1 tsp)

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Oven-Baked Chicken Wings

Cover a low-sided baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place a wire rack over the tray and then place the wings on the wire rack so that they are evenly spaced and not touching. Dust the wings with baking powder. Put the tray with the wings in your refrigerator, uncovered, for at least two hours, and up to 24 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 230 degrees Celsius (450 degrees Fahrenheit) for ten minutes. Put the rack with the wings in the upper-middle of your oven. Put the tray with aluminum foil in the lower-middle of the oven. This tray will catch the fat drippings, making clean-up easier.

Bake for 20 minutes, then take the rack out and turn over each wing. Then bake for another 15-25 minutes, until browned. Take wings out to cool.

Lemony Greek Sauce

Place a non-stick skillet over low heat and pour in 1/2 the olive oil. After oil is heated, add garlic, rosemary, and lemon zest. Stir constantly until garlic just begins to brown, about 2-3 minutes. Take skillet off heat and whisk in remaining olive oil and lemon juice. Taste and add more lemon juice if needed.

Thai Peanut Sauce

Put a cast iron skillet over medium-low heat, and coat with the peanut oil. When oil is shimmering, add chopped onion and chili. Cook, stirring often, until onion is soft and just beginning to brown. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Turn heat to low. Stir in the curry paste, soy sauce, and rice vinegar. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly, then add peanut butter, chicken broth, and dried ginger. Stir. Add Sriracha to taste. Place aside to cool.

Pour sauce into blender and blend until smooth. (You can skip this step if you don’t have a blender.)

Assembly

Pour 1/2 of the sauce over the finished oven-baked wings and stir to coat. Add more sauce if needed. For the Thai Peanut Chicken Wings, sprinkle with chopped cilantro. Enjoy!