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baked vegetable friesWhen it comes to food, does your inspiration well ever run dry? I must admit that, even though I teach about healthy eating for a living, I am sometimes stumped when it comes to snacks. If I am feeling a bit peckish I am as likely as the next person to be tempted by anything random, easy or rubbish that happens to have made its way into the house.  Months’ old marshmallows from a summer barbeque (s’mores of course), old tortilla chips that need reviving in the oven, cheese of dubious age lurking in the inner recesses of the fridge: anything is eligible. Of course I always try and have more suitable grazing fodder around. I really do. But sometimes you want something that seems, well, a bit delinquent. Do you ever feel that way? Does your inner-child ever want to come out and wreak havoc in the kitchen?

baked vegetable friesSo, as it happens, I was recently wanting something a bit different. Exceptional even. And if it could satiate my deep-seated but largely sublimated desire for something junky, even better. But I didn’t want it to take long (otherwise it might as well be dinner, right?), or be loaded with calories. Taste, yes. An intimation of dietary transgression, too right. Loads of fat, no. And it needed to be dippable. All the best snacks are dippable.

That’s where these vegetable fries come in. Who knew that good old eggplant – that soft rather spongy vegetable hiding under the marinara and cheese – could be a snack? And the same with summer squash. Aren’t they side dish or main dish fodder? Well, trust me they make a great fry. But without the frying. And they are actually quite good for you to boot.

I may never reheat tortilla chips again!

Thank you to my friend Seonaid at Breath Of Green Air for providing me with luminescent – and seedless – summer squashes. They were a great inspiration for this recipe.

What snazzy, healthy snacks do you like to make?

baked vegetable friesbaked vegetable friesBaked Middle Eastern Vegetable Fries

Last year: Jam and Almond Macaroon Bites (easy & delish!)

Two years ago: Late Summer Salad and Triple Tomato Soup

Miss R’s track of the week: Brand New Day by the awesome Kodaline (this is the non-vid link)

With these super-easy fries you can recreate restaurant-style breaded vegetables, but without the fat, dairy or excess sodium (and boy are some of them salty!). I used summer squash from a friend’s garden, plus a small eggplant, but you could use sweet potato, butternut squash, kohlrabi or even green beans. For a vegan version, substitute 2 tbsp ground chia seed/6 tbsp water mix for the two eggs, or slick with liquid coconut oil. Two dips are suggested but really anything you like – such as ranch dressing – would be fab with these crunchy munchy snacks. Best eaten hot from the oven.

Serves 4-6 as a pre-dinner nibble or snack (easily halved)

1 small eggplant (aubergine)

1 small summer (yellow) squash

40g (1/4 cup) brown rice flour OR plain/AP flour

40g (3/4 cup) panko crumbs OR 50g (1/3 cup) medium ground cornmeal/polenta (have more around just in case)

3 tsp za’atar* (a Middle Eastern dry condiment mix) – divided use

Fine salt

2 eggs, beaten (see header for vegan option) OR 3-4 egg white, beaten

Oil spray

Flaked sea salt, to finish

Special equipment needed: baking rack or aluminium foil; clean tea towel

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F.

1. Take the squash and cut into ¼ inch rounds. Cut the rounds in half and lay on half of the tea towel; cover with the other half of the towel and press lightly. Let this sit as you get on with the rest. If there are any large seeds (mine didn’t have any) try and remove these.

2. For the eggplant, trim the ends and cut in half around the middle. Stand each half on an end and slice ½ inch thick slices, then cut each into slim fries or wedges. I cut mine quite short (best for robust dipping) but you can of course make longer, more fry-like, ones. Set aside.

3. Pour the flour, panko crumbs/cornmeal and eggs/chia mix into separate plates or shallow bowls. Whisk the egg with 1 tsp of za’atar and season with a good pinch of salt; stir 1 tsp of za’atar in each of the two remaining bowls and season with the fine salt (about ¼ tsp each).

4. Toss a few of the vegetables in the flour; transfer to the egg bowl with a fork, coating well. Using two forks (or fingers) add the vegetables to the panko crumbs/meal and gently toss around with the forks (forks keep it from getting too messy). Sprinkle over any excess za’atar.

5. Place the baking rack over a baking tray or line a tray with foil; spray the rack/foil with oil spray, or slick with a little oil. Lay the coated vegetables on the tray, spray with oil spray, and bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes – or until golden and crisp. Eat immediately with the suggested dips, or your own concoction. A contrast of cool-creamy and sweetly-spicy is wonderful, but even plain old ketchup would be delicious.

Leftovers? These need to be eaten soon after baking or the inherent sogginess of the eggplant will win over the crunch. So, if you made too many (!) pop them (and the squash) in an oven-proof dish, cover in tomato/marinara sauce, sprinkle over some parmesan  for a middle eastern mini baked eggplant parmesan!

* if you don’t have za’atar (homemade or bought), why not try a mix of garlic powder, ground cumin, sesame seeds and rubbed dry thyme? 

baked vegetable fries

baked vegetable fries with homemade goats milk labneh (recipe soon) & ketchup with tamarind chutney

Suggested dips:

Labneh with added za’atar and lemon (recipe soon!)

Marinara sauce

Ketchup with a little tamarind concentrate/paste added (I used this chutney version)

Ketchup with sriracha added

Chipotle ketchup

Mayo or yogurt mixed with (rose) harissa

Sour cream/crème fraiche/yogurt and za’atar

Mixed yellow mustard and mayo

Your favourite Indian or Middle Eastern chutney/pickle

Beetroot and Cashew Hummus

Super-Smooth Hummus

Butternut Squash and Almond Dip

Lebanese-style Broad Bean Hummus

Chermoula White Bean Dip

I am sending this over to Cookin’ W/ Luv for Mark’s Made With Love Mondays homemade food roundup. Thanks Mark!

Related Posts:

Baked Eggplant Fries via Shape magazine

Baked Za’atar Eggplant Fries via The Kitchn

Crispy Eggplant Fries via Closet Cooking

Baked Yellow Squash Fries via To Be Mrs Colliers

Crispy Baked Yellow Squash Chips (these are like crisps) via Delighted Momma

Baked Cider Eggplant Fries via Where Women Cook

Related Articles:

The Misunderstood Eggplant via Martha Rose Shulman of NYT’s Recipes for Health

Eggplant: Health Benefits and Controversy via The World’s Healthiest Foods

A Roundup of Eggplant (how to choose them) via The Kitchn

Successful Snacking – Balancing Your Blood Sugar (food to glow)

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49 thoughts on “Crispy Middle Eastern Vegetable Fries – low-fat and delicious

  1. So healthy, will definitely be snacking on this :)

  2. boreshaexpert says:

    Very cool! I have an egg plant growing in the garden. Can’t wait to try this one. Thank you :)

  3. What a perfect recipe. Crisp coated vegetables bakes and enjoyed with one or two tasty dips. Even though this is healthy t could easily rival the most tempting of junky foods that I love. A real winner and one I will try our on my family. I have been experimenting with dips and always need more ideas and I am looking forward to reading about your Labneh recipe. Have a lovely bank holiday!

    1. What an accolade – thank you! I’ve popped a few food to glow dip links on the bottom of this post, as well as a number of non-recipe ideas. You can tell I am a bit of a fan of the ol’ middle eastern vibe!

  4. Cucina Amore says:

    My inner child lives in my kitchen! Lol ;-)

    1. Mine too. She’s happiest there. Playing. And not washing up until threatened with removal of privileges :D

  5. Deanna says:

    I can’t wait to try this! Thank you for the inspiring recipe!

  6. These look yummy. I have not thought to use eggplant before but I have been doing something similar lately with all kind of things from artichoke hearts to zucchini. I am usually making it for a vegan friend and have found that using ground flax seed soaked in warm/hot water for a few minutes really works pretty well as a replacement for the egg. I also happen to be making them for my husband and son who are allergic to wheat. I have used rice flour, but also like almond meal. I just like to mix in a little salt, pepper, and dried basil or oregano to the “flour” then I pan fry them in just a few tablespoons of olive oil. I am going to have to try these ones next time. :)

    1. I must try almond meal next time. I use it a lot already, and love it’s texture and nutrition (taste too!). I tend to use/recommend chia over flax as it has less phyto-estrogen content and therefore is more suitable for those going through treatment for most breast cancers. My default setting, but I should give flax as alternative. Plus it is easier to obtain. Thanks for the reminder and tips, Emilia.

      1. I should try chia, I have it sitting waiting to be used, I am not sure why I don’t reach for it more. I think it might be the texture, I don’t like the little pop it makes. However variety is the spice of life, so I should mix it up next time. :) Thanks for that reminder!

      2. I know what you mean about the texture. I have a coffee grinder that I use to grind everything *but* coffee so that’s where the chia goes.

  7. Oooh, colour heaven looking at the yellow courgette on the black slate, wonderful. Yeah, I’ve been a bit nibbly today too and have devoured an entire packet of Blue Diamond Smokehouse almonds, mmmm, however your crunchy veg would have hit the spot perfectly, delicious!

    1. Well, that is not a pretty slate (although I have one of those). It is a battered 25 year old baking tray! I am rather partial to its scratches. People buy them off eBay, but I have a pretty good collection of old baking stuff of my own as I myself am rather old :D

  8. ps. i bought a ‘graffiti aubergine’ today cos it was so beautiful….

  9. Love inner-child food-wreaking havoc. And, yes about stubbing simplified snacks. Sometimes a handful of fruit is good. But, sometimes I just want toasted bread and my version of delinquent – baba ghanoush. Oh freaking yum. Somehow good snack = dip with some sort of bread item.
    These look great, by the way. Love that you put a middle-eastern spin on it.

  10. mewinebrenner says:

    I do this a lot! I love the eggplant comes out – it’s crazy how crunchy it gets! Can’t wait to make some of those dips – they’re good ideas! And fries are not as good without a dip!

  11. Looks awesome! I recently had Eggplant Fries for the first time at a restaurant here in Seattle (Poppy) and they were spectacular!

    1. I’ve only ever had zucchini fries at a restaurant but imagine they’re similar to eggplant, with eggplant being a bit more ‘bitey’ in the taste department.

  12. That looks fantastic, I will try them soon!

  13. thehealthminded says:

    I admit. Fried zucchini is a fav, but one I rarely indulge. But this – a great alternative without the guilt. The spice mix sounds divine!

    1. Thanks. I scoffed half a batch in one go (for my lunch, not snack)!

  14. mataicooking says:

    You make my moutwathering, mmmhhh

  15. I definitely have trouble with inspiration for specific type of food (vegetables for me) – I find myself scratching my head and wondering how I can perk things up… I adore the sound of these baked fried, Kellie! What a fantastic way to use squash and eggplant – perhaps the best I’ve seen. And is there anything Panko doesn’t improve?

    1. Panko makes most things more interesting. Certainly makes them crunchy!

  16. These look AWESOME! I brought some Zaatar home from Israel and we have loved cooking with it!

    1. Lucky you with authentic za’atar! I put it in loads of things. It is one of my most useful herb-spice mixes. That and dukkah. Enjoy using it :D

      1. Where do you find these spices? Is dukkah read? I also came home with a red spice that we love but don’t remember what it’s called : )

      2. The individual spices are quite common – sesame, thyme, oregano, dried parsley and sumac (probably your red spice that you mentioned). There are loads of variations and no ‘right’ way to make it. I don’t know where you live but here in the UK Steenbergs is a good bet for spice mixes like this. As for dukkah, it is similar but has ground nuts usually, coriander and cumin. I like to add dried complementary herbs as well as a pinch of sugar. I have recipes for both spice mixes if you look in the index.

      3. Kellie, thanks! I will definitely check that out. I am not great about making my own spice blends but love to pick them up when I am traveling!

      4. Well, I’d rather get them travelling too! Unfortunately no exotic holidays on the horizon

  17. Wow, Kellie, you just made my my garden squashes look, taste and feel fabulous. I will send lots more your way knowing that they will end up in a brilliantly crunchy dish :-)
    I just can’t resist the sunshine yellow.

    1. They were beautiful (past tense!). Thanks so much for bringing me such vibrant produce x

      1. As we are currently drowning in these yellow delights more will be winging their way towards you very soon :-)

  18. This is an interesting recipe, Kellie…. I’ve been meaning to try Panko crumbs, but have never bought them.

  19. I’ve been craving chips(fries in your country) for soo long! This recipe looks amazing! I’ve always been afraid of baking veggie chips to crispy little wedges because have always felt I would roast away the nutrients i.e. vitamins. The crumbs coating in this recipe is the perfect solution for crispiness without nutrients and moisture sacrifice! And also the 20 minutes cooking time sounds very attractive, will definitely try this out soon :) Love aubergines!

    1. I used the word ‘fries’ to lessen ambiguity – everyone knows what it means, whereas chips is different depending on where you live – but I live in the UK too. I hope you try these as they don’t get too done on the inside – just done enough – to negate the nutritional benefit

      1. Oh right. That’s always the good way to go! And I actually live in NZ :) not quite the UK but close enough, I will try these out. Thanks for the reply!

      2. I wish I could tell where everyone’s from! I love that I can have a chat with someone as far away as you are. The Internet is a wonderful thing. How did we manage without it? Let me know if these make it into your oven. Btw, I didn’t know you New Zealanders called fries, chips. Now I know! :D

      3. You should definitely visit downunder sometime! I’d say nz and Aus have carried through a lot of English traditions, although most tries to deny it. Don’t know if it’s as intensive in the UK but fish n chips is pretty much staple food here. Not the most ideal regular meal nutritionally. Without the internet, computers would just be a waste of time, although we do often waste a lot of time surfing the internet too I.e.watching cat videos on YouTube

  20. bubliibeauty says:

    Yummy ! looks super delicious :)

  21. nice! amazing colors and flavours I expect.

  22. robisaba says:

    I will try this! I hardly ever deep fry nowadays, spraying with oil and baking sounds like a good alternative. Panko breadcrumbs should make it crispy enough :)

    1. Way crispy! Your ears will hurt :D

  23. Kathryn says:

    I totally know that feeling about wanting something crispy and junky to snack on – these are such a great alternative to most of the snacks out there when the craving strikes!

  24. Ooooo……I want to come over to your house for an afternoon snack! I can’t say I have come up with anything this snack worthy in some time. Um, today’s snack was a spoonful of almond butter-not very inspired at all! Za’atar is something I’ve seen recently in some recipes I’ve been wanting to make recently…these fries give me the perfect excuse to go out and buy some :-)

  25. narf77 says:

    First you blow my mind with the thought that I, the ex potato addict, can actually eat fries again? Next you give me a plethora of sensational dips to go with them and then you share a whole pile of posts that are making my mouth water just looking at them! I take my hat off to you ma’am, you are truly my new hero! Tonight, I eat fries again for the first time in a year :)

If you have time, I would love to hear from you. Thanks so much!

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