Caprese salad is a mainstay in Italian restaurants everywhere, and it’s even common on continental or American restaurant menus. Typically, caprese salad means fat slices of beefsteak tomato and mozzarella cheese (though I’ve also seen it done with burrata cheese) and slivers of fresh basil. Sometimes there’s a drizzle of olive oil, sometimes, the salad comes with nothing more than a sprinkle of sea salt and cracked pepper.
In my pre-vegan life, I was a big fan of this dish, though even then I used to think “where’s the salad part of this salad?” “Salad” is of course a term open to interpretation, but I did always used to wish that the dish came with more greens. The salad you see above is the kind of caprese salad I’d make if I had a restaurant of my own: rather than making cheese the centerpiece of the dish, I’d emphasize greens along with cheese and tomato. And the “cheese” would be 100% vegan, naturally—in the vegan eggplant caprese salad above, I feature lemon pepper brazil nut cheese, and it’s so delicious that any attachment you feel to mozzarella will quickly be supplanted by awe that vegan nut cheeses can be so tasty and authentic.
This dish can be made either 100% raw or high raw, depending on how you cook or uncook your eggplant (eggplant bacon works in the uncooked version). I have had both varieties in the last week, thanks to some organic eggplant that was calling my name at the market this past weekend. I like them about equally, though I photographed the grilled eggplant version. Since eggplant caprese is certainly an untraditional spin on caprese salad (untraditional woman, untraditional recipes…) you can dial things back to the authentic version if you wish to, and use tomato. That’ll be especially nice this summer, when heirloom tomatoes are everywhere. I myself am waiting for that moment, but in the meantime, eggplant is just fine with me. It’s a vegetable I don’t eat enough of, and every time I do, I remember how tasty it is.
I hope you enjoy this fabulous, easy salad. It’s an ideal party appetizer, and it’s the kind of thing one enjoys showing off as a “veganized” spin on a traditional recipe formulation.
Vegan Eggplant Caprese Salad (raw or high raw, vegan, gluten free, soy free)
For the salad:
1 medium sized eggplant
4 cups baby romaine lettuce
3/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Small handful basil leaves, sliced thin
1 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp avocado or olive oil
To grill the eggplant:
Slice eggplant into round about 1/2 inch thick. Spray lightly with coconut oil and dust with salt and pepper. Grill on an indoor griddle or outdoor grill for about 8-10 minutes, or until very tender. Alternately, you can bake these at 400 for 15 minutes.
To use eggplant bacon:
Follow instructions in this post.
To make salad:
Chop eggplant, grilledor raw, into bite sized pieces. Toss greens with 1 1/2 cups eggplant, tomatoes, vinegar, and oil. Divide into four dishes and garnish with teaspoons of the brazil nut cheese: about 4-6 per dish.
Lemon Pepper Brazil Nut Cheese (raw, vegan, gluten and soy free)
Makes about 1 1/2 cups, or 6 servings
1 1/2 cup brazil nuts, soaked overnight and drained of water
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup water (have extra on hand)
1/2 – 1 tsp salt (modify to taste)
Cracked black pepper to taste
1. Place nuts, garlic, salt, and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor (or a high speed blender). Pulse for a minute or two, and then, with motor running, add water and keep blending for a few minutes, to achieve a creamy texture. Add a little more water if necessary.
2. Taste and season with black pepper. I like this cheese to be heavy on the pepper, as the title implies! Serve in salad, in a wrap, or however you like.
Curious about how I’d serve this dish?
Again, I think this is a great appetizer, so I’d serve it as a first course (or a side dish) with a bean or grain based meal. You could also add legumes, tofu, or tempeh for some protein, and some cooked new potatoes for extra complex carbs, and serve it as a meal sized salad!
Since this is an eggplant dish, I thought I’d respond to a friend and reader’s question from some weeks ago: why are nightshades thought to be harmful, and should I be avoiding them?
The issue here is that the nightshade family of vegetables, which contains eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, tomatillos, bell peppers, and a few others, contain a compound, solanine, that can cause inflammation in those who are particularly sensitive to it. Increased inflammation among arthritis sufferers can lead to increased joint pain; therefore, if you are sensitive to solanine and you have arthritis, you may experience find that nightshades exacerbate your symptions.
There are some studies that reference a link between reported joint pain and nightshade consumption among arthritis sufferers, but there is not enough research to support the claim that all arthritis sufferers should avoid nightshades. Many doctors insist that much of the evidence for a connection between nightshades and arthritis is anecdotal, and point out that no single food has been proven to exacerbate the condition. Others say that the arthritis connection is real—again, in people who have a susceptibility to solanine, which is not the majority—but that those who do not suffer from the sensitivity need not avoid nightshades. It’s also worth pointing out that solanine is concentrated in the leaves and stems of nightshade vegetables—in other words, the parts we usually discard—so the parts we eat may not have enough solanine to cause inflammation even if one is sensitive.
I’ve heard it said in holistic circles that “if you wouldn’t eat something if you were sick, you shouldn’t eat it if you’re well.” A reinterpretation of this statement might go the way of “if something is bad for some people, it’s probably bad for all people.” I disagree humbly on both counts. There are all sorts of health conditions—heart disease, diabetes, various food allergies and autoimmune diseases, candidiasis, low blood sugar, and thyroid diseases, just to name a few—that call for very particular dietary nuances as part of the healing path. But that doesn’t mean that people who don’t suffer from those conditions should be avoiding the foods in question, too. Just because some people have celiac disease, that does not mean that everyone should eliminate gluten from their diets. Diabetics must be very mindful of sugar consumption, but non-diabetics can be slightly less vigilant. And though I can use coconut oil in some of my recipes, I may not recommend it to a person with heart disease.
I’m all for using food as preventative medicine, in other words, and I take a moderate approach to foods (like saturated fats and sugar) that are proven risk factors in the development of chronic health problems. But I also recognize that unique health circumstances call for unique dietary habits, and I try not to eliminate foods entirely unless I feel that there is a real need for it.
If you do have arthritis and you feel certain that nightshades have an adverse effect, then you may be a person with solanine sensitivity, and you should experiment with eliminating them. If you don’t have arthritis, and you also don’t feel any differently after you eat nightshades, then it’s unlikely that you’re sensitive. In that case, go ahead and enjoy nightshades: peppers, tomatoes and eggplant have been linked to the reduction of various diseases, among them colon cancer, and tomatoes are potent sources of many antioxidants. Red peppers contain enough Vitamin C to compete with citrus fruits.
There are also some folks who say that nightshades should be avoided because they contain oxalic acid, which can block absorption of calcium and iron. Well, many vegetables are high in oxalic acid; spinach, chard, and beet greens are among the highest. Cooking will significantly reduce oxalic acid content, so there’s nothing to worry about when you cook the vegetables. When you eat them raw, keep in mind that these foods provide tons of nutrients aside from calcium, and that you are very likely to get calcium beyond the single meal in which you’re worried about raw spinach or eggplant on your plate. So, as always: consume a wide variety of veggies in raw and cooked form, many times daily, and rest assured that your health needs are being satisfied. That’s my take, anyway.
Hope this answers your question, friend. And that the salad inspires you