When 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?
So, 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?
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
2 eggs, beaten (see header for vegan option) OR 3-4 egg white, beaten
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!
Labneh with added za’atar and lemon (recipe soon!)
Ketchup with a little tamarind concentrate/paste added (I used this chutney version)
Ketchup with sriracha added
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
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
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)