Get his recipe for Dairy-Free Eggplant Parmesan
In 2019, HRN partnered with Chef Alon Shaya for a fundraising dinner at Safta (his Denver restaurant) during Slow Food Nations Festival. Our guests included Alice Waters (Founder, Edible Schoolyard), Paul Willis (Founding Hog Farmer, Niman Ranch), Anna Mulé (Executive Director, Slow Food USA), and more. The menu featured crispy eggplant, charred cabbage, whole roasted cauliflower, and smoked lamb shoulder – showcasing Alon’s culinary philosophy of cooking with whole vegetables, sustainably sourced proteins, and high-quality ingredients.
Alon believes home cooks and diners with dietary restrictions don't need to compromise on flavor either. He recently partnered with Danone Away From Home on an event at Safta, where he prepared a Dairy-Free Eggplant Parmesan using So Delicious Dairy Free Cheese.
While these in-person events aren’t currently possible due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Alon and his team at Safta and Saba (his New Orleans restaurant) are continuing to create memorable meals for their guests, even when they can’t dine on-site. We touched base with Alon to see how he’s adapting during the age of social-distancing. Given that we're all spending more time in the kitchen, we also asked for his home cooking tips along with his recipe for Crispy Eggplant Parm with So Delicious Dairy Free Cheese.
HRN: Hi Alon! First and foremost, we know that restaurants are facing a crisis on an unprecedented scale. How are your restaurants, Saba and Safta, faring?
Alon Shaya: Saba and Safta are still open, but we are struggling to get by with a huge reduction in our revenue. We have a very resilient team who is staying positive and taking the pandemic extremely seriously. I have been very inspired by the collaborative effort by our team to keep our businesses alive. Our guests and community have really showed up to support us and we are so thankful for that.
We believe that our core values as a company have seen us through the hard decisions we have had to navigate over the last eight months. Having a clear ideology with regards to communication, organization, respect and positivity has made a very hard experience tolerable for our team.
HRN: Most restaurants have had to adapt to a very different model during the pandemic, which means much more takeout and delivery. How has that impacted your menus, operations, hours, etc.?
AS: We have definitely had to pivot many times to keep up with the constantly changing climate and government regulations. We have reduced lunch hours at both Saba and Safta and added dinner hours to maximize the amount of business we can do. Curbside pick-up and delivery have become a major portion of our business, which we had not done before Covid-19, and we have all become fluent in doing virtual events which has been beneficial for us as well.
HRN: There's been a growing appreciation for vegetable-focused dishes on restaurant menus. Safta's charred cabbage and whole roasted cauliflower are prime examples of beloved plant-based main dishes. What are some of your favorite ways to make vegetables the star of the table?
AS: I love serving vegetables in their whole state as much as I can. Roasting a whole eggplant in a wood burning oven is one of my favorite methods of cooking that vegetable. Slow roasting vegetables such as beets, carrots and potatoes with hearty herbs and extra virgin olive oil is another way I like to bring out their natural flavors and make them the full meal instead of just a component. I believe that properly cooking vegetables is one of the important and gratifying ways to cook because of the healthy and sustainable footprint they have on our diets.
HRN: You reworked a classic recipe, Eggplant Parmesan, using So Delicious Dairy Free Mozzarella. The key to this dish was a non-dairy cheese that could melt under a broiler. What are some tips for making successful substitutions for dairy-free dishes
AS: Get creative and don't be afraid to use ingredients that you may not be familiar with. Tahini is a great way to add creaminess to a dish without using dairy and it tastes great on almost anything, especially vegetables. Silken tofu is another great way for a cheesy-like texture without using cheese. I think we have to stop looking at food in limited silos, and begin thinking about what we eat in a more holistic way. Macaroni can be served without cheese and still be delicious in many dishes.
If you live in New Orleans or Denver, make sure to support Saba and Safta with pick-up and takeout. For everyone else, you can recreate Alon’s Dairy Free Eggplant Parmesan with the recipe below.
Crispy Eggplant Parmesan with So Delicious Dairy Free Cheese, Tomato Gravy, Olives, Capers, and Basil
Ingredients for eggplant:
- 2 medium eggplants
- 4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 5 whole eggs
- ¼ cup water
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 3 cups Japanese-style panko bread crumbs
- 4 cups vegetable or canola oil
- 1 pound So Delicious Dairy Free mozzarella, shredded
Ingredients for tomato gravy:
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced small
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced
- ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 28 oz can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes
- 4 oz water
- ¼ cup black olives
- 1 tablespoon capers
- 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- 2 teaspoons of kosher salt
- 12 basil leaves, roughly torn
- Salt to taste
To prepare to eggplant:
- Cut eggplant (with skin on) into 1 inch rounds. Salt the eggplant with the 4 teaspoons of salt and set aside.
- Crack the eggs into a bowl and whisk with ¼ cup of water to make an egg wash. Place the flour and bread crumbs in separate bowls.
- Begin to bread your eggplant by first placing it in the flour and covering the eggplant completely. Shake off excess flour and place eggplant in the egg wash. Flip eggplant in egg wash twice and let excess egg drip off back into the bowl. For the final step place the eggplant in the bread crumbs and cover until it is completely breaded.
- In a sauce pan with tall edges and an oil thermometer attached, heat the oil over medium-high heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the eggplant in the oil for 15 minutes flipping over after the first 8 minutes. It should be a deep golden color. Move to a paper towel lined plate and let excess oil drain off.
To prepare the tomato gravy:
- Preheat the oven to the broil setting at the highest possible temperature with a rack in the middle of the oven.
- Place a medium sauce pot on medium heat and add the extra virgin olive oil. Once oil is hot, add the diced onion and minced garlic. Turn the heat to low and let the onions, garlic and pepper flakes cook slowly for 10 minutes, or until the onion is very tender and soft.
- Add the San Marzano tomatoes and water and bring to a low simmer. Let the sauce reduce for 25 minutes or by roughly ⅓ in volume.
- Add the olives, capers, and oregano, along with the sugar and salt. Let simmer for another 15 minutes and take off heat. Add the first half of the basil leaves into the sauce and keep aside to stay warm.
- In a casserole dish, place half the sauce on the bottom. Place the fried eggplant slices over the top and ladle the remaining sauce over the eggplant. Spread the So Delicious Dairy Free mozzarella evenly over the top. Place the dish under broiler and watch cook until mozzarella is completely melted. Garnish with the remaining fresh basil leaves.