Baked Almond Crusted Eggplant Bites

Since moving to Florida, my fiancé and I absolutely love making weekly trips to the local Farmer's Market.  

During the "in-season" months, which typically range from October through April, the market really thrives with amazing vendors offering fruits, veggies, local seafood, artisan crafts, fresh crepes and coffee, tie dye shirts, native plants and honey.  "Off-season", the market is stocked with the staples, on a much smaller scale, but we LOVE it year-round!

Plus, the added benefit of spending some uninterrupted quality time with my man, getting fresh air, and getting our bodies moving on a weekend morning has its perks, too. 

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Over the couple years we've lived here, we've gotten to know some of the vendors from our frequent visits and have built some great relationships with the people we encounter there.  One of our favorite people at the market is our friend Eldridge, of Eldrige's Produce, who is an in-season regular.  He quickly took a liking to Dave and me, always getting excited when he'd spot us at the market (although it was mostly probably my six-foot-six fiancé who you can spot from 100 feet away!) and would shout a huge "HELLO!" at us from across the park.  He loves hearing about what we've been up to, or if anything exciting has been going on, or which family or friends of ours have been in town.  And his interest appears to be truly genuine.

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The night after we got engaged, we made our routine trip to the market, and Eldridge almost hit the floor in excitement when we shared the good news with him.  He was sincerely so happy for us.  He came over to give me a huge hug, and shook Dave's hand to say "congratulations".  He's been one of our biggest fans since we met him.

Eldridge's fruits and veggies are fantastic - always fresh, vibrant and full of flavor.  We picked up some beautiful baby eggplants one day that were screaming to become our next experiment!  I've only ever seen the larger eggplants, but the smaller ones were too cute to pass up.

Check out my recipe below for a healthier version of "breaded" eggplant - tossed in almond meal, spices, baked instead of fried, and completely inspired by our weekly trips to the market.  The beauty of this dish (and like most of my other recipes!) is that the spices can always be added or left out or even increased or decreased to your liking!  Don't like heat?  Leave it out!  Like other spices?  Add them in!  

Can't wait for you to try them!

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Ingredients:

  • 8-12 mini eggplants, sliced to about 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 eggs at room temperature, beaten
  • 1 cup of almond meal
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp parsley
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup of red sauce or vodka sauce, heated (for dipping) 

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare a couple baking sheets by lining with parchment paper.  Set aside.
  2. To create the breading mixture, combine the almond meal, garlic powder, parsley, basil, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. Mix together.
  3. With one hand, dip the sliced eggplant in the egg and shake off any excess. 
  4. Toss the eggplant into the breading.  With your other hand, make sure both sides get covered with the mixture.  NOTE: Switching hands will allow you to keep one hand as the "wet" hand (for the egg) and the other hand as a "dry" hand (for the breading).  This technique will help reduce the chance of the breading clumping up as you continue working through the batch.
  5. As each piece is prepared, lay out on the baking sheet, leaving just a smidgen of space between each eggplant slice.  To maximize crispiness, you won't want them to touch on the tray when they go to bake. 
  6. When all of the eggplant is breaded, place into the oven for a total of about 30 minutes.  After about 15 minutes, take out of the oven, flip the slices over, and allow the eggplant to continue cooking on the other side until golden brown.  
  7. Let the eggplant cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a plate and enjoy!  You can eat it plain, or dunked in some sauce, warmed over medium heat in a small saucepan.