When you change your entire way of cooking and eating, your go-to dishes have to change, too. My totally-exhausted-I-can’t-stand-the-thought-of-standing-on-my-feet-for-and-hour meal? Usually hummus sesame noodles. So fast! Dinner was on the table in under 10 minutes! I can actually still make that one while we’re eating plant-based.

But any meal that contains cheese? Eggs? Honey? Any kind of animal protein? Nope. Many of them I’m been able to modify. I have an egg substitute that works well in baking. I sub out honey for maple syrup. There are plenty of plant-based substitutes for ground beef, chicken nuggets, and even burgers.

But cheese? Yes, I’ve made my own nacho cheese and it was totally delicious. I’ve made my own Alfredo and it was great, too. But it’s hard to replicate that gooey, stretchy magic that happens when you top a casserole with cheese. And although I have made a plant-based Parmesan, but it wasn’t quite right.

We had a big eggplant in the refrigerator that I knew only had another day or two before it went away to compost heaven, so I decided to try to make eggplant Parmesan. Or Eggplant Fake-esan, since there’s no Parmesan in it!

Before you start, you’ll want to set up a dredging station.

Station One: the easy one. It’s just a big (gallon-size) ZipLoc with 2/3 cup of all purpose flour, and a teaspoon each of salt and black pepper.

Station Two: in a pie plate, whisk together one cup of plant milk and one tablespoon of hot sauce. I used Chohula Chipotle hot sauce, but you do you, boo.

Station Three: in a deep plate (or another pie plate), combine 1 cup of Italian seasoned Panko bread crumbs and a teaspoon of salt. You will have to remake this mixture as you go.

Before you start, assign one hand to be the “wet hand” and the other hand to be the “dry hand.” You don’t have to do this out loud. Just in your head is fine. But if it helps you to say it out loud, go for it.

“Okay, you’re going to be my wet hand…”

In the directions below, I have made the dry/wet assignment for you, but I’m not the boss of you! You can make you own decision about which hand is which.

Slice your eggplant into 1/4-inch slices. Shake 4-6 pieces in the flour bag until they are completely coated on both sides. Using your dry hand, take 2-3 slices from the bag and drop them into the milk mixture. Use your wet hand to flip the slices until there are no dry spots. Using the same hand, place the slices one at a time into the panko plate. Use your dry hand to scoop crumbs on top and pack them on. Flip the slice and pack more crumbs onto the other side and the edges. Place the coated slice onto a sheet of parchment. Repeat with all other slices.

There are lots of different kinds of air fryers. Many of them have a basket into which you place your food. If you have a basket air fryer, just cook your eggplant in batches until you have cooked them all. But you’re going to stop cooking and flip them after 8 minutes and then cook for 4 more minutes. My air fryer doesn’t have a basket, but instead has three wire racks. I loaded them all up and it only took two batches. Because the air circulates around the racks, I didn’t have to flip the slices. There is one rack that always cooks slower than the others, so those slices weren’t quite as brown as the others. I just returned that rack to the air fryer for 2 more minutes and they were just as golden as the others.

Crazy-Crispy Air Fryer Eggplant Fake-esan

1 large eggplant, cut into 1/4-inch rounds

In a gallon-size ZipLoc, mix together:
⁃ 2/3 cup of all purpose flour
⁃ 1 teaspoon of salt
⁃ 1 teaspoon of black pepper

In a pie plate or shallow dish, mix together:
⁃ 1 cup of plant milk
⁃ 1 tablespoon of hot sauce

In a plate, mix together:
⁃ 1 cup of Italian seasoned Panko
⁃ 1 teaspoon of salt

Place a piece of parchment on your counter.

Place 4-6 eggplant slices in to the ZipLoc and shake until all sides are coated in flour.

Use your right hand to take the slices from the bag and place into the milk mixture.

Use your left hand to turn the slices over – making sure there are no dry spots – and place, one at a time, into the panko mixture.

Use your right hand to scoop crumbs on top and pack them on. Turn and make sure both sides and the edges are coated. Place onto the parchment.

Continue until all pieces are coated, adding more Panko and salt as needed.

Cook on 380° for 12 minutes. Continue to cook in batches until all are cooked.

Serve over pasta and top with warm spaghetti sauce or marinara.

Well Duh #1: I didn’t serve these over pasta because they were made for a light lunch. If I make these for dinner, I will definitely serve them over a bed of angel hair pasta.

Well Duh #2: I haven’t bought spaghetti sauce for years because my mom and dad grow tomatoes in their garden and they can a bazillion quarts of the most delicious spaghetti sauce. They are so gracious and share their yummy sauce with us (and lots of their friends). They don’t actually eat a lot of spaghetti sauce, so the majority of the jars are given away. I have the most awesome, servant-hearted parents. They are just the best!

Well Duh #3: If you aren’t a plant-based eater, you can absolutely use regular dairy milk. And you could sprinkle them with a little mozzarella before serving.

Well Duh #4: If you don’t assign a “wet hand” and a “dry hand,” you’re going to end up with Hulk fingers. Your fingers will just be fat with a thick coating of flour, milk, and Panko bread crumbs. You will have to stop a couple of times and go wash your hands and start all over. It’s just easier to use each hand for something different.

Well Duh #5: I’ve had several readers and friends ask what made us decide to become plant-based eaters. We totally did it for Michael’s health, but here is the book that was partially the reason why we chose plant-based over other eating plans. If you’re even slightly interested, you should read this book! It’s called Forks Over Knives: The Plant-Based Way to Health.

These really are crazy crispy! I was really amazed at how crunchy the air fryer made them. Panko crumbs are always crispier then regular bread crumbs. My tribe loved them with just a ladle or two full of spaghetti sauce spooned over the top. Because every layer is seasoned, the slices are really flavorful even without the spaghetti sauce. There were a few slices left over and they were really good all by themselves. I think every member of the family passed through the kitchen and picked up a slice to nibble on until they were all gone.

Whether you’re a plant-based eater or not, you’ll love these crunchy eggplant slices!