By Lisa Le

I fell in love for the first time in Italy. I was there on a high-school band trip and, of course, 16-year-old Lisa was awkward when it came to boys. I’d find excuses to sit close to my crush on our tour bus, stealing shy glances, but I’d talk to him the same way I always did, like he was an affable idiot, only to bolt the second he looked my way. I didn’t find romance in Italy.

What I really fell in love with was food. If I could live anywhere in the world, it’d be Italy. Italians know how to live. They live to love, they love to laugh and they love to eat. Eggplant, pesto, tomatoes, artichokes, capers…Italians bring out the richness of their ingredients simply by complementing them with herbs, lemon and olive oil. Italy is where I remember savouring my first taste of eggplant parmigiana: crisp outside, tender inside and smothered in marinara sauce.

I’ve taken eggplant parmigiana and given the dish an Asian treatment. I started with Italian almond flour, garlic and olive oil, but I swapped in Chinese eggplant and added toasted sesame oil to add an extra dimension of flavour.

Almond-Crusted Baked Eggplant
Your family and friends will fall in love with this crunchy baked eggplant. Serve it as an appetizer with your favourite marinara sauce.

Courtesy of Lisa Le,, Mississauga, Ont.

almond crusted eggplant parmigiana

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Yields: 4-6 servings

¼ cup (50 mL) olive oil
1 tbsp (15 mL) toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp (15 mL) apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon juice
1 tsp (5 mL) dried basil
¼ tsp (1 mL) salt
¼ tsp (1 mL) garlic powder
¼ tsp (1 mL) onion powder
¼ tsp (1 mL) black pepper
2/3 cup (150 mL) almond flour (ground almonds)
3/4 tsp (4 mL) salt
3 medium Chinese eggplants, sliced diagonally
olive oil cooking spray (or olive oil in an oil spritzer)

1. Preheat oven to 425ºF (220ºC). Line a heavy, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In shallow bowl, whisk together olive oil, toasted sesame oil, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, basil, salt, garlic powder, onion powder and black pepper until emulsified.
3. In another bowl, mix almond flour and salt.
4. Slice eggplant into ¼-inch slices.
5. Dip eggplant slices into oil mixture, then into almond flour mixture, turning to coat. Place on prepared baking sheet.
6. Spritz slices with cooking spray.
7. Bake for 15 minutes, then flip slices and spritz again. Bake for another 15 minutes, or until crispy and golden.
8. Serve with your favourite marinara sauce.

Lisa Le is the Toronto-based vegan food blogger behind The Viet Vegan. She blogs about food with stories about Vietnamese culture, nerdism, feminism and her life sprinkled in on top.