This Beef and Eggplant Casserole has been a family favorite for dinner for many years. Ground beef and eggplant are prominently featured in this casserole. It’s a tomato- based casserole with cinnamon, pine nuts and plenty of melted mozzarella cheese on top.
It’s easy to make the same things for dinner over and over again. We all love spaghetti and tacos and chicken. And we seem to stick with the things we know best. But when you’re given the opportunity to try something new… something that might feel a little different… you should grasp that opportunity and see how it works out.
This Beef and Eggplant Casserole is one of those recipes. I hardly ever make things with eggplant in them. It’s one of those things that I just kind of forget about most of the time. But it’s a nice addition to this cheesy beef casserole with a middle eastern vibe. In case you’re wondering, the addition of cinnamon and toasted pine nuts are what give it such a unique flavor and a middle eastern flair.
Eggplant (also known as “aubergine”) is an edible purple fruit. Did you know it was a fruit? I always thought it was a vegetable, but since it contains seeds it’s considered a fruit. It’s related to the tomato and potato. Like the tomato, the skin and the seeds can be eaten. And like the potato, it’s not recommended to be eaten raw. Eggplant has a spongy texture, and it is used in a variety of different cuisines.
How to choose eggplant at the store:
When looking for the best eggplants at your market, choose eggplants with smooth, shiny skin that are uniform in color and heavy for their size. To test for ripeness, lightly press a finger against the skin. If it leaves an imprint, the eggplant is ripe. Choose smaller vs. larger eggplants as they tend to be sweeter, less bitter, have thinner skin and fewer seeds.
Why is it important to salt eggplant before cooking with it?
Standard procedure in working with eggplant is to salt it, let it sit in a colander for a good 30 minutes and then pat it dry with paper towels. The salt does a few things. It draws out any potential bitter liquid in the eggplant, which comes from the seeds within the eggplant. Because that moisture is being drawn out, the eggplant slices will keep their shape more when cooked. They also won’t become water-logged and mushy during the cooking process. And finally, adding salt is a bonus to seasoning the eggplant before use.
How to toast pine nuts:
I do this often! Just take out a small skillet and heat it to medium. Put your pine nuts in the skillet and use a wooden spoon to stir them around until toasted. Don’t leave them in the pan and walk away! You need to tend to them and stir them until toasted or they will burn and be unusable (an expensive mistake!) After they’re toasted, I remove them to a paper towel so they can cool.
How to make Beef and Eggplant Casserole:
The first step in making this recipe is to salt the eggplant and draw out the moisture. Then, the eggplant slices are brushed with olive oil and lightly broiled. Onion is cooked with the ground beef, spices and tomato sauce. Toasted pine nuts are stirred in too. To assemble, eggplant slices, beef mixture and cheese are layered in the casserole dish and then baked.
Is this a good make-ahead dinner recipe?
Because of the nature of eggplant and its ability to grasp onto moisture, I recommend making this Beef and Eggplant Casserole and cooking it right away. Leftovers the next day are still pretty good.
If you’re looking for more good casserole recipes to make for dinner, you might like to try my Turkey Noodle Casserole or this Chiles Rellenos Casserole. Easy Taco Casserole, Chicken Tamale Casserole and Tex Mex Chicken and Rice Casserole are great dinner ideas too!
Beef and Eggplant Casserole
- 3 medium eggplants, sliced into 1/4-inch slices
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 16 ounces ground beef
- 1 medium garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon basil
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- One 8-ounce can tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
- 10 slices (8 ounces) mozzarella cheese
- 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- Place sliced eggplants into a colander. Sprinkle with salt and set aside for at least 30 minutes to allow salt to draw out excess liquid from eggplant. Pat slices dry on paper towels. Place on greased or nonstick baking sheet and brush with oil using pastry brush. Broil for approximately 4 minutes, or until slices are just browned. Turn slices over and repeat process for the other side. Layer slices in 9x13-inch dish and set aside.
- Preheat the oven broiler.
- In a sauté pan over medium-high heat, combine the onion and ground beef and sauté until meat is browned. Stir in the garlic, oregano, basil, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Add the tomato sauce. Remove from heat and stir in pine nuts. Cool.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Place large tablespoonfuls of the beef mixture on top of the eggplant slices in the baking dish. Places slices of mozzarella cheese over the top to completely cover the beef layer. Sprinkle with Parmesan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
- Sprinkle with additional Parmesan and serve while hot.
- *Try preparing this dish without the beef for a Vegetarian meal.
- *Don't skip the first step... it's important to draw the moisture out of the eggplant or you run the risk of your eggplant being soggy.