Roasted Eggplant Lasagna (low carb, gluten free, vegetarian)

Is there anything more delightful than an eggplant? THAT WAS A TRICK QUESTION. Because the answer is yesroasted eggplant, which is in fact marginally more delightful than just regular eggplant.

For those who require examples of the aforementioned delight: baba ganoush, ratatouille, stir fry, moussaka – the (delightful) possibilities are simply endless for this glossy, purple fruit! It also boasts an impressive array of many vitamins and minerals, such as excellent amounts of fiber, folate, potassium and manganese, as well as vitamins C, K, and B6, phosphorus, copper, thiamin, niacin, and magnesium. It even contains phytonutrients with high antioxidant compounds.

But let’s not kid ourselves. What’s the first thing you think of when you think of eggplant dishes? That’s right. This fine aubergine is usually just relegated to second fiddle in an eggplant parmesan – breaded, fried, and reduced to mush under a mountain of sauce and cheese.

Now, I won’t even lie. I am entirely ok with the mountain of sauce and cheese. So let’s work on everything else.

AS PROMISED: mountains of sauce and cheese.

Baked, grilled, roasted – nothing brings out the ~*~rich complexity~*~ in an eggplant’s flavor than some lovin’ in the oven (…or grill). Plus, with its dense, robust texture, it makes an excellent substitute for meat in vegetarian or vegan cuisine.

So let’s keep it classic. We want sauce, we want cheese, and we want eggplant playing a better role than ‘breadcrumb vehicle’. Here’s an idea: ROASTED EGGPLANT LASAGNA (this is where you get excited because I said just the title of the movie post). Now it’s low carb, gluten free, and still accessible to our vegetarian friends!!

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Roasted Eggplant Lasagna (low carb, gluten free, vegetarian)

Yields: Around 8 servings

Ingredients:

3-4 medium to large eggplants
Olive oil spray AND/OR about 3 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper, seasonings of choice (I used Penzeys Italian Herb Mix, which includes oregano, basil, marjoram, thyme and rosemary)
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes (I used a ‘no salt added’ variety)
1 16 oz. jar no sugar added tomato sauce
1/2 cup grated parmesan
2 to 2 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella (I used part-skim mozzarella)
Chopped parsley, for topping

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400º, and line a large baking sheet (or sheets) with aluminum foil. Spray or drizzle with olive oil.

Slice eggplant and lay on baking sheet(s) in a single layer. Lightly salt and season, and spray, brush, or drizzle with olive oil again.

Place in oven and roast for 30 – 45 minutes, flipping each slice over about halfway through. (NOTE: if some slices are thinner than others, they may brown and crisp up – these make AWESOME eggplant chips and are excellent for snacking on. NO MISTAKES HERE.)

While eggplant roasts, pour the diced tomatoes into a colander placed in the sink, and allow to drain.

Spread about 1/4 cup tomato sauce evenly over the bottom of a large casserole dish. Layer with roasted eggplant, and then top with the drained diced tomatoes. Sprinkle about 2 tbsp parmesan and 1/2 cup of mozzarella, and then continue layering with eggplant, tomato sauce, and cheeses until eggplant runs out. Make sure you finish with a glorious layer of mozzarella and parmesan!

Bake about 30-40 minutes, or until cheese melts and begins to brown. Top with fresh chopped parsley, and serve hot.

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Nutritional Info (as calculated with olive oil spray):

roasted eggplant nutrition

 

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The Cheesiest Macaroni & Cheese, and Saucy Sodium Citrate Science?! (Low carb, gluten free, vegetarian adaptable)

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STORY TIME: Several years ago, I had surgery to remove all four of my wisdom teeth. I was advised to eat softer, easy-to-chew foods while recovering. Miserable, swollen, and doped up on painkillers, I ate macaroni and cheese exclusively for every meal that week.

It was the greatest week of my life.

YOU GET IT. Mac and cheese is one of those foods that just completes me. I am definitely in the majority when I say this. It is among the finest of melty cheese delivery systems ever conceived.

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Honestly I still can’t see blue and yellow together without my brain autofilling KRAFT® MACARONI AND CHEESE. It could be dish soap. It could be the Swedish flag. It doesn’t even matter. I have been CONDITIONED.

This is probably why it took me a super long time to question the fact that everyone’s favorite cheese sauce was from a packet of day-glow orange powder. I am not going to tell you what I have since learned about this powder. I’ll just say the good news is that at least the second to last ingredient actually references cheese. After Yellow 5 and Yellow 6.

Well. All right. But cheese is the # 1 ingredient of my SOUL. It stands to reason that it should also be the #1 ingredient in my cheese sauce.

IMG_5979SEND HELP.

So I did what I do best and asked the internet. And the internet provided. 

Let me tell you about the magical ingredient called sodium citrate. Sodium citrate is the sodium salt of citric acid (which occurs naturally in citrus fruits). In a cheese sauce, sodium citrate allows the proteins to become more soluble which creates a smooth emulsion without curdling.

So science science, blah blah. What’s my point? My point is that with nothing but water and just a pinch of sodium citrate, you can use literally any cheese you want and make the perfect, smooth melty cheese sauce of your dreams. We’re talking gruyere, gouda, cheddar, muenster, you name it. A nacho cheese sauce made of BRIE. The sheer possibilities are overwhelming. I am overwhelmed.

This was definitely more ideal than cheese as my #1 ingredient. This was pretty much cheese as my only ingredient. This is a pure, unadulterated cheese sauce without added thickeners, flours, or preservatives of any kind. Like homemade Velveeta, but incomparably better! Plus, mad scientist food chemistry!! SIGN ME RIGHT UP.

Sodium citrate can be easily purchased online and will last you for ages. HOWEVER: I understand that this isn’t exactly up everyone’s alley, so I’ve also provided a simple, more classic (still low-carb!) cheese sauce recipe for your macaroni and cheese needs.

To keep this low-carb and grain free, I’m using the same noodle I used in my ramen recipe – a ziti-shaped shirataki noodle. Again, you’re more than welcome to substitute in zucchini noodles (aka zoodles), kelp noodles, spaghetti squash, cabbage, or just some plain old gluten-free noodles (keeping in mind the carb count would change).

So come join me for some saucy sodium citrate science! Lab coats and safety goggles optional, but encouraged.

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The Cheesiest Mac & Cheese, and Saucy Sodium Citrate Science (Low carb, gluten free, vegetarian adaptable)

Recipe adapted from Modernist Cuisine

Yields: Around 6 servings

Ingredients:
3-4 packages of ziti or elbow shaped shirataki noodles/tofu shirataki 
11-14 grams sodium citrate (I used a scale)
Water, around 1/2 cup or just enough to dissolve the sodium citrate
3-4 cups cheese of your choice (I used a light mild cheddar)
12 oz. chicken, cooked
1 cup zucchini (or broccoli, spinach, etc), diced
1-2 tbsp grated parmesan, optional
Olive oil spray

Instructions:

If using shirataki noodles, empty bags into a colander and drain all the liquid. Rinse well under water.

Drain noodles and transfer to a hot pan without any oil, grease, or liquid. Heat on medium-high for 5-10 minutes, or until noodles release steam and shrink slightly (but not too much!).

Add diced zucchini to pan and sautee until slightly browned. Set aside.

Place water in a large saucepan, add the sodium citrate, and stir until dissolved. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.

Gradually add cheese to the simmering liquid, using a wire whisk to combine after each addition, until all of the cheese is melted and smooth.

IMG_6046The process of deliciousness.

TIP: If the sauce begins to separate, add a pinch more sodium citrate and a splash of water. Bring back to a boil, and continue whisking until sauce is smooth again. 

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Once the cheese sauce has reached the desired consistency, add in cooked chicken and the shirataki and zucchini mixture. Combine until evenly coated in cheese sauce.

Spray an 8″ x 11″ casserole dish with non-stick spray or olive oil. Transfer mac and cheese mixture into dish and sprinkle with grated parmesan. Place under broiler for 5-10 minutes (keep an eye on it!) until golden brown. Serve hot! (Cheese will thicken slightly as it cools.)

 

And as promised, a more traditional recipe for cheese sauce:

Recipe adapted from The Keto Kitchen

1 cup heavy cream or milk of choice (half & half, almond, coconut, etc)
2 oz neufchâtel or cream cheese, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 tsp dry mustard
1 1/2 cups cheddar, shredded
12 oz. chicken, cooked
1 cup zucchini, diced (or broccoli, spinach, etc)
1-2 tbsp grated parmesan, for topping
1/8 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper, to taste

Bring the cream or milk to a simmer in a small saucepan, and whisk in the cream cheese and mustard until smooth.

Stir in 1 1/2 cups of the cheese, salt, pepper, and garlic and whisk just until the cheese melts, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat, pour over the shirataki, zucchini, and chicken and stir to combine.

Spray an 8″ x 11″ casserole dish with non-stick spray or olive oil. Transfer mac and cheese mixture into dish and sprinkle with grated parmesan. Place until broiler until browned, about 5-10 minutes. Serve hot!

Nutritional Info (As calculated with shirataki, zucchini, and sodium citrate sauce):

mac n cheese nutrition

Deconstructed Deep Dish Pizza Casserole (low carb, gluten free)

 

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Nothing brings out the absolute best in me like pizza. For the purposes of this post, “the absolute best” will be defined as “an uncontrollable, rabid animal who single-mindedly annihilates the largest amount of food in the shortest amount of time possible.”

Nothing else in the room exists until the pizza has been completely demolished. It borders on primal. Probably this goes back to when our Paleolithic ancestors roamed the earth, hunting day and night for the freshest wild mozzarella and pepperonis. It’s just evolution at work. It’s SCIENCE.

Dat melty, cheesy ooze. I need a moment. 

So while there’s an appropriate time and place for a quality (low carb or otherwise) pizza dough, my prehistoric tendencies demanded a more basic approach. Meat. Cheese. Toppings. More cheese. MORE MEAT. This would be pizza: DECONSTRUCTED.

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A lot of people seem to be under the impression that pizza could never be a low carb food. These people would be very wrong. What is pizza if not the sum of its toppings? I don’t need dough as a vehicle. I have my HANDS. And in the presence of others, begrudgingly, a fork.

That’s where this magnificent casserole comes into play. With a base of seasoned chicken sausage, LOADED with vegetables and crowned with beautifully bubbling and browned cheeses, you will be lacking for literally nothing when it comes to pizza night. Which you can now justify renaming “every night”.

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Deconstructed Deep Dish Pizza Casserole (low carb, gluten free)

Recipe adapted from Kalyn’s Kitchen

*I hate to leave our vegetarian or vegan friends out of the fun! If they’re part of your diet, feel free to substitute veggie versions of the protein or vegan cheese alternatives for this recipe! They’ll work just fine. 

Yields: Around 6 servings

Ingredients:
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes (I used a ‘no salt added‘ variety)
5 links (19.5 oz.) uncooked chicken or turkey Italian sausage (I used Italian bulk chicken sausage)
1-2 tsp Italian herb seasoning (I used Penzeys – a mix of oregano, basil, marjoram, thyme and rosemary)
8-12 oz. fresh mushrooms, washed and cut into thick slices
1/4 cup green peppers
1/4 cup green onions/scallions
1 cup spinach
1 1/2 cups grated Mozzarella cheese (I used part-skim mozzarella)
1-2 tbsp grated parmesan
14 slices regular or turkey pepperoni, cut in half (I used this brand)
Fresh basil, for topping

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400°. Spray an 8″ x 11″ casserole dish with non-stick spray or olive oil.

Pour the diced tomatoes into a colander placed in the sink. While tomatoes drain, spray olive oil/non-stick spray into a large frying pan, squeeze the sausage out of the casing, and brown over medium-high heat, breaking it apart as it cooks.

While sausage cooks, prepare other vegetables. Wash mushrooms, pat dry, and slice into thick slices. Dice green peppers and scallions.

When the sausage is done, make a layer of sausage in the bottom of the casserole dish and top with the drained tomatoes, spreading them out over the top of the sausage. Season with Italian herb spices.

Return to pan, and spray with olive oil or a non-stick spray. Add in green peppers and scallions and cook at medium high heat for around two minutes.

Add the mushrooms and cook until all the liquid is released and the mushrooms are starting to brown. Add spinach and cook until just wilted.

Layer the mushrooms, pepper, scallion, and spinach over the sausage-tomato mixture. Cut pepperoni in half. Sprinkle the shredded Mozzarella over the top of the casserole and lay the pepperoni pieces on top of the cheese, spacing them evenly so the whole top is covered with pepperoni. Sprinkle the grated parmesan on top.

pizza8Cheese for miles.

Bake about 20-25 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and starting to brown. If desired, run under the broiler in the last 2-4 minutes (keep an eye on it!) to brown the cheese. Top with fresh basil, and serve hot.

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Nutritional Info (As calculated with the above ingredients):

deconstructed pizza nutrition