Vegan Eggplant Caprese Salad with Lemon Pepper Brazil Nut Cheese

by Gena on May 1, 2012

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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.

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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.

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Curious about how I’d serve this dish?

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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 Smile

xo

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Victoria (District Chocoholic) May 1, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Brazil nuts are awesome (most radioactive food on the planet! YES!). And I agree that the extra greens enhance the dish. No green vegetable is safe around me, and more is better.

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Alex @ Raw Recovery May 1, 2012 at 8:22 pm

Oh I am so excited to try this dish. I am starting to love nut cheese!

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Sarah C May 1, 2012 at 8:25 pm

Thank you for another gorgeous recipe! I haven’t tried the nut cheese yet, but I am itching to do so (I just bookmarked your fermented nut cheese recipe – so excited to try it!). I have two questions, if you have a second. The first is about the brazil nuts here – I have some in my fridge I’ve been eating raw, but they’re tasting bitter and dirt-like lately. Did they go “off” and if so, is there anything I can do to redeem them (like roast or something) – I hate to waste expensive ingredients!

Second, off-topic, relates to a general question I have. I know you’re not a doctor, but you always have such well-informed and reasonable opinions that I thought I’d solicit your advice. So often we read in the food-for-health blogosphere about foods for cardiac health and liver health, cancer prevention, and even brain health. But what information is there about the best foods for lung health? Any thoughts on foods for lung health or a resource you could point me to? Thanks! And thanks for always presenting such well-balanced and well-informed perspectives on important topics.

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Lisa May 1, 2012 at 8:31 pm

Thanks for the great post!
I find it so interesting (also confussing) how some foods help block and absorb vitamins and nutritents.
Today the health industry makes a new claim about a type of food and after reading something on the internet which is not supported by an expert in that field the claim is exagerated and blown out of proportion.
What confuses me is how so many studies show complete opposite results?
xx

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Katie of Vegan Noms May 1, 2012 at 8:44 pm

My, oh my! This dish looks so light and fresh… perfect summer cuisine. Love the combination of flavors and textures!

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Ela May 1, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Gena’s own restaurant…Now there’s a venue I would fly from Alaska just to visit!

As well as everything else you said, what I love about this salad is how you show that seasonal flexibility is part of creating food. I get so frustrated at times with people who eat by “names” of dishes, and everything they eat has a special name and may contain only thus and so ingredients. I love that you show it’s completely well and good for “caprese” to feature eggplant.
About to get kicked out of here and down to one bar on the wifi, so I should wrap up. Agree on the food/wellness thing too.
love
Ela

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Hannah May 1, 2012 at 9:07 pm

Mmmm! This looks great, Gena. Now – how in the world do you have time to blog/come up with recipes/write lengthy and well-written blog posts while being a post-bacc?? It never ceases to amaze me!

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Gena May 2, 2012 at 6:09 am

I write fast. And, oh — this is the only thing I do all day that I actually like :)

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bitt May 1, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Wow this salad sounds great! Fits my needs right now perfectly! There’s nothing like a grilled eggplant. Did I mention I am obsessed with Brazil nuts right now? I gotta make this cheese. Yum.

I suffer from arthritis and gave the no nightshade thing a try, to be fair, although I didn’t eat that many of them so thought it would be silly for them to be the true source of my pain. So not all arthritis sufferers have this reaction for sure. Although there have been foods in my diet and my spouses that once we’ve eliminated, we’ve realized how much trouble they were giving us. But these are highly individualized. Having multiple health issues and getting to know the communities of people who suffer from those afflictions as well, I am realizing that no one treatment works for all people, one drug or herb can be a huge help to one person but really harm or just not help another person.

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Gena May 2, 2012 at 6:12 am

You know, I NEVER think to use Brazil nuts — never ever — but I went on a whim at Whole Foods and am not sorry. Very tasty!

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Hannah May 2, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Super source of selenium which I’ve heard is ver important and kinda hard to get?

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Natalie May 1, 2012 at 9:39 pm

This looks absolutely delicious! Really light and fresh and perfect as the summer months approach. I’m always on the lookout for new nut cheese recipes so I’ll have to give this one a try!

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Ilana May 1, 2012 at 10:38 pm

So funny. As I was enviously reading this recipe and drooling over the eggplant I no longer eat because I avoid nightshades I was thinking about commenting then I got to your discussion at the bottom. I’ve been avoiding nightshade for a while now, for various reasons, and I truly notice the difference (have tried re-introducing on a few occasions with less than awesome results), utterly eliminating heartburn and a few other problems. From an ayurvedic perspective, most nightshades are “hot” foods with “pungent” properties, and people who are already naturally hot in their basic constitution would do better to minimize their intake of hot foods, to balance, and that tends to make a lot of sense for me health-wise right now. I LOVE tomatoes and eggplant but I’m okay not eating them because I feel much better without.

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Aprilette May 1, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Hi Gena, I simply love eggplants and the Caprese salad having my favorite, is one fantastic healthy dish I would love to try! Thanks for these healthy recipes…can’t wait to hear more!!!

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Averie @ Averie Cooks May 2, 2012 at 12:07 am

I love Caprese salad and way to go on this cheeze. And on the eggplant bacon. Wow, you outdid yourself! I thought you were supposed to be studying :)

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Maryea @ Happy Healthy Mama May 2, 2012 at 6:54 am

Beautiful salad! Very impressive. :-)

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Anonymous May 2, 2012 at 7:39 am

looks so good! and your brazil nut cheese looks like a block of feta! :o so cool!

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Karen May 2, 2012 at 7:59 am

Terrific summary and perspective on the nightshade issue. I’ve been conflicted on this for a long while as I do have some osteoarthritis symptoms, yet am not noticeably sensitive to nightshade vegs. I’ve tried eliminating them and then introducing them in moderate amounts w/no change in symptoms.

Beyond the potential arthritis link, though, now I finally understand the premise for extending this warning to all: “If it’s bad for some, it’s likely bad for all.” As always you are the best, most articulate health educator around! Thank you, dear Gena! :)

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Faith @ For the Health of It May 2, 2012 at 8:39 am

I have to say I am still a HUGE fan of caprese salads, but they’re more of a sporadic indulgence than a regular order of mine. This vegan version, though, sounds like it’ll be more of a mainstay – especially if I can master the brazil nut cheese!

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Linda-Marie May 2, 2012 at 9:28 am

Would it be possible to freeze eggplant bacon to store it for later? Anyone know or tried it?

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Christine (The Raw Project) May 2, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Yum, I adore Brazil nuts and can’t wait to try this -thanks! Very interesting on night shades, that’s the first I’ve heard of that, thanks for the info.

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Heather May 2, 2012 at 2:24 pm

I looove eggplant – I made roasted eggplant dip yesterday. This salad looks fabulous Gena! If you can believe it, I haven’t made eggplant bacon yet! Must try your recipe soon.

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Laura May 2, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Not only am I looking forward to making this salad, (I, too, used to love, love, love Caprese “salad” and more so when I went to Italy…way before my vegan days), but I’m most anxious to make the Brazil nut cheese. Anyone who knew me pre-vegan knew that cheese was one of my weaknesses, (you can keep chocolate, I’m a good old-fashioned, what I call “real” food lover…lol…), and being vegan, although I don’t miss cheese per se, (except when I walk by the huge cheese section at Whole Foods – but only sometimes…lol), I do find that I’ve been avoiding recipes that call for cheese. I’ve tried commercial almond cheese but I’m avoiding over processed soy so that kind of went by wayside. But I have been inspired by the idea of this Brazil nut cheese! I prefer making things fresh – I spent an arm and a leg and an eye on my Vitamix so I try to make FULL use of it and now I’ve found another way – thanks! :)

Also, I wanted to comment that I really enjoyed your thoughts about nightshade vegetables. I’ve done an elimination diet now three times under the supervision of my homeopath and he had suggested I avoid nightshade vegetables. However, I’ve found that when I’ve re-introduced some of them they haven’t affected me at all – thank goodness because I love, love, love tomatoes! So, I agree with you wholeheartedly. The best test for sensitivities is an elimination diet.

Love your site. I look forward to trying out more recipes…off to put some Brazil nuts to soak :)

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Anastasia@healthymamainfo.com May 2, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Brazil nuts are one of the highest sources of selenium, an important mineral which often lacks in a normal Western diet. I make milk out of them quite often, now I’ll be making cheese. Thanks for the idea!

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RawGuru May 3, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Looks totally yummy, Gena! Love how the brazil nut cheese turned out looking like feta. Really yummy combo of flavors.

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Veronica Low Fat Vegan Chef May 4, 2012 at 12:13 am

This recipe looks really good. I don’t know if I’ll make the nut cheese though as we generally don’t eat a lot of nuts and try to keep things low fat. But I love eggplant and I like roasting it in the oven. The pictures look lovely too.

I agree about the nightshades, I get tired of some people freaking out about them when many populations have used potatoes and tomatoes as staples in their diets with no ill health effects. I certainly have never had a problem eating eggplant or tomatoes either.

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Laura May 5, 2012 at 1:02 pm

OMG! I just made the Brazilian nut cheese…and it is awesome! I put a tad bit too much water as I would’ve preferred it a little thicker but it is deelish! Thanks again for this recipe…I feel like I’m eating cheese on my salad – didn’t make the caprese salad but figured it’d do on a green salad and it more than just “do”! ;)

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