This keto eggplant Parmesan recipe is the real deal: lush eggplant slices, grilled to perfection, layered with a rich tomato sauce flavored with fresh basil leaves, grated parmesan cheese, and glorious mozzarella cheese.
This is a dish my Mom made often while I was growing up in Italy, as we both absolutely adore eggplant; although in this recipe I use tomato sauce in between layers, for a more complete meal she would sometimes use ground beef Bolognese Sauce instead and I have to be honest, I can’t pick a favorite (it’s a bit like a keto eggplant lasagna recipe!)
As time passed, and now well into my thirties, I still love this eggplant parmesan recipe and often prepare it during the summer months, as it is a great dish for meal prepping, a lunch box, or also to entertain friends and family.
Wash your eggplant, prepare the sauce and get baking!
Let’s talk nutrition!
Eggplant, also known as aubergine, is used in many cuisines all over the world and it is almost always treated as a vegetable, although it is a fruit, as it contains seeds and it grows from a flowering plant.
As a nutrient-rich food, eggplants are low in calories (only 20 per cup, which is about 80 grams) while being high in vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. A cup of eggplant also has only 5g of carbohydrates.
This vegetable is very rich in antioxidants, needed by the body as they fight free radicals, which are harmful to the cells; antioxidants may as well help prevent chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.
Anthocyanin is a pigment that has antioxidant properties and is the one that gives eggplant its strong, vibrant color.
~~ Looking for other nutritious, versatile, and low-carb vegetables to add to your diet? The 18 Best Low-Carb Vegetables | Popular, Versatile, and Easy to Cook and Integrate into Most Diets
What does Parmigiana mean? How to pronounce Parmigiana?
While in Italian parmigiana means ‘from Parma’, a city in the Northern region of Emilia Romagna, the dish Eggplant Parmesan originated from Southern Italy, and the debate is whether it comes from Sicily, Calabria, Puglia or the area around Naples, Campania.
Parmigiana is pronounced paar-muh-jaa-nuh, with the letter a being quite strong in Italian.
What is parmigiana?
Eggplant Parmesan is a baked dish made of three main ingredients: layered tomato sauce, cheese, and eggplant; traditionally, in this classic Italian dish, the eggplant slices are coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried, however by grilling them or pan-frying them in this eggplant parmesan recipe, we achieve a very tasty alternative that lowers calories, fats and carbohydrates.
How to make keto eggplant parmesan?
As I just mentioned, traditionally this recipe calls for the breaded eggplant to be deep-fried, however, to keep net carbs, calories and fats lower, this version calls for grilled eggplant; should you prefer to fry them while still keeping it keto/low-carb, I have added both versions below.
This recipe consists of three parts: preparing the eggplant, preparing the sauce, and layering.
1) Preparing the eggplant
There are two ways of doing this in a keto-friendly way, with the one in the recipe card being the grilled version.
Grilling: Start by washing the eggplants and cutting them lengthwise in slices about 1/5 inch thick (5mm); to ensure they grill nicely, pat them down with some paper towel on both sides, before grilling them on a grilling pan. To heat up the pan, put it on medium heat and sprinkle with a little olive oil (half teaspoon should suffice) or a few sprays of cooking spray; once the pan is warm, add the eggplant slices and allow to cook. Cooking the eggplant should take about 3 minutes per side, however, it is important you ensure it is thoroughly cooked as if not it will release a lot of water in the bake, making it very liquid and quite bitter. To ensure the eggplant slice is cooked through, use a fork and if it pokes and removes easily, it is ready. As the slices cook, set the tender eggplant slices aside on a baking sheet and continue until the whole batch is done.
Frying: When frying eggplant, you will want to sweat it in order to remove all of the excess water (which is quite bitter) to start with and this is an important step in this version; slice the eggplant lengthwise after washing it and layer it on a large colander with some rock salt in between layers. On top of all the slices, position a tea towel and on top of it and a weight, such as a bottle of oil or water; put the colander in the sink or in a large bowl and allow the eggplant to sweat for at least half an hour to an hour. Once the eggplant has eliminated the excess moisture (which would also splash all over the place when in the oil), remove the slices from the colander and remove the excess salt.
In a bowl beat two whole eggs and season them with a little salt (remember that some salt will remain from the sweating) and black pepper; to prepare the alternative bread crumbs coating, mix some almond or coconut flour with some seasoning, such as Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes or herbs in a large bowl.
Start by dipping the eggplant slices in the beaten egg and then into the crispy coating mix; once coated, should one wish, the same process can be carried out again for double coating.
To cook, warm up some oil in a large frying pan and allow it to warm up on medium heat; to check if the oil is warm, drop a couple of crumbs of the flour mixture in it and if they bubble straight away, it is ready. Ensure the oil is not too hot, as this may burn the eggplant on the outside while leaving it raw on the inside; raw aubergine has quite a bitter taste.
Fry the coated eggplant slices until they are golden brown in color and, once done, put the crispy eggplant rounds to rest on some parchment paper or paper towel, so to eliminate the excess oil.
2) Preparing the tomato sauce
While many may like to purchase keto marinara sauce from the grocery store, preparing your own homemade marinara sauce is very easy and it allows you to customize it to your liking.
For this recipe, all you will need is some plain and simple tomato passata, olive oil, some thinly sliced fresh garlic cloves, and an onion.
Start by sautéing the onion and garlic until they are soft and the smell of rawness has gone, then add the tomato passata, half a cup of water, and, if you have, add a few basil leaves and allow the sauce to simmer on a low flame for 15-20 minutes, occasionally mixing. Once the tomato sauce is ready, it will be bright red in color and quite thick.
Should your tomato passata lack flavor, you can add some tomato paste to the onion and garlic, once cooked; if instead, your tomato sauce is too acidic, add half a teaspoon of sugar to it and the added sugar will remove it. In this sauce, I would not recommend swapping garlic cloves for garlic powder as the taste is quite different, so if you do not have fresh garlic, you could perhaps skip it.
3) Layering and baking
How the eggplant is layered is very important, as it will keep the eggplant parmigiana all together also when serving.
To start, cover the base of your baking dish with some tomato sauce; this will prevent the eggplant from sticking and burning at the bottom.
Next, lay eggplant slices, with one slice next to the other, then top with a bit of grated parmesan and mozzarella cheese and top with some more tomato sauce; once done, repeat the same process, but layer the eggplant in the other direction, perpendicular to the previous layer. Continue doing so until all of the eggplants have been used.
For the top layer, first spread the remaining tomato sauce and then top it with the cheeses; the eggplant casserole is now ready and it only requires baking.
To bake, warm up the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (FAN), 350 Fahrenheit FAN, gas 6 or static oven 200 degrees Celsius or 400 Fahrenheit; place the gluten-free eggplant parmesan on the middle shelf in the oven and bake for 20 minutes covered with a sheet of aluminum foil and then, 20 more minutes without it. This process will help remove the excess moisture.
Once the traditional eggplant parmesan is ready, allow it to rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving. Enjoy!
How many calories are in eggplant parmesan?
This eggplant parmesan recipe has only 274 calories per portion, however, be mindful when having the traditional version, as fried eggplant will have many more calories and fats.
How to cut eggplant for eggplant parmesan?
This eggplant parmesan recipe can use either peeled or unpeeled eggplant; most of the vitamins and nutrients are contained in the skin, so I personally choose not to peel it. Once washed, remove the top of the eggplant and then slice it in either roundel widths-wise, or in oval slices, length-wise. It is important the slices are thin, as thick slices take longer to cook, meaning the outside could burn while grilling or the outside may remain raw.
What to serve with eggplant parmesan?
Although this is considered as a side dish in Italy, I have – and many others – mostly always had it as a main course. Melanzane Alla Parmigiana can be served with a crunchy salad side dish or with some roasted vegetables of choice; to make it as a bigger meal, serve it with a side of protein, such as some grilled chicken or beef.
How to store baked eggplant parmesan? How to freeze eggplant parmesan?
This healthy eggplant parmesan recipe can be easily stored in an airtight container; once cooled, put the slices in the container and either freeze or refrigerate. This easy recipe can be stored in the fridge for up to 4 days. This is a great meal prepping idea and preparing a large eggplant parmesan tray to portion and freeze is a great way to make ahead meals; before serving, allow the portion to fully defrost and heat it up until piping hot.
A few notes:
This recipe, although simple, has many variables that allow you to customize it just how you want it!
- Chicken parmesan: substitute eggplant (or mix) with some grilled chicken slices! This will still be suitable if you are following a low-carb or keto diet.
- Meat sauce: as mentioned before, Bolognese sauce can be used in between layers to create a low-carb lasagna.
- Cheese: if preferred, other cheese can be used instead of mozzarella and parmesan; good options are pecorino romano and mild cheddar.
I surely do hope you give this glorious dish a try, as it is a great lunch or dinner idea, ‘weekday in front of a movie meal’ or ‘weekend celebrate with friends dish’… there’s no better way to enjoy an eggplant bake, if not with plenty of rich tomato and sauce, you know… the Italian way!
Eggplant Parmesan Recipe (Keto, Low Carb + Healthy)
For the tomato sauce
- 680 ml Tomato Passata
- 1 Onion small
- 1 clove Garlic
- 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
- 1 Mozzarella Light 125 g or 4 1/2 oz
- 30 g Parmesan Cheese grated
- 2 Eggplants
- Cooking Spray as required
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Basil Leaves to taste, optional
Prepare the grilled eggplant slices
- Wash the eggplants, dry them and cut them lengthwise in slices about 1/5 inch thick (5mm); before grilling, pat them down with some paper towel on both sides.
- Heat up the pan on medium heat and sprinkle with a little olive oil (half teaspoon should suffice) or a few sprays of cooking spray; once the pan is warm, add the eggplant slices and allow to cook.
- Cooking the eggplant should take about 3 minutes per side. Ensure the eggplant slices are thoroughly cooked as they may release some water in the bake, making it liquid and quite bitter.
- To check whether the eggplant is cooked thoroughly, use a fork and if it pokes and removes easily, it is ready. As the slices cook, set the tender eggplant slices aside on a baking sheet and continue until the whole batch is done.
Prepare the tomato sauce
- In a large saucepan, warm up the olive oil on medium heath and, when warm, Sautée the onion and garlic until they are soft and the smell of rawness has gone.
- Next, add the tomato passata, half a cup of water, and, if you have, add a few basil leaves and allow the sauce to simmer on a low flame for 15-20 minutes, occasionally mixing. Once the tomato sauce is ready, it will be bright red in color and quite thick.
Layer the eggplant parmesan
- Prepare the baking dish by covering the base with some tomato sauce, which will prevent the eggplant from sticking and burning at the bottom.
- Next, lay the slices of grilled eggplant and top them with a bit of grated parmesan and mozzarella cheese and top with some more tomato sauce; once done, repeat the same process, but layer the eggplant in the other direction, perpendicular to the previous layer. Continue doing so until all of the eggplants have been used.
- For the top layer, first spread the remaining tomato sauce and then top it with the cheeses; the eggplant casserole is now ready and it only requires baking.
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (FAN), 350 Fahrenheit FAN, gas 6 or static oven 200 degrees Celsius or 400 Fahrenheit.
- Place the eggplant parmesan on the middle shelf in the oven and bake for 20 minutes covered with a sheet of aluminum foil and then, 20 more minutes without it.
- Should there be still quite a bit of moisture in the bake, cover it again with the foil, leaving a corner open, to allow the steam to escape; continue baking until the desired consistency is achieved.