After my sister and I had left for college, our trips home to visit Mom were always preempted by a call from her, asking what we wanted to eat when we arrived. She was happy to prepare for us any special treat we wanted (*best welcome home gift ever!*). For me, it really depended on the time of year, what I had eaten recently, and other random factors. But my sister’s response was always predictable: “Milanesa and pascualina!” – every. single. time. It was a bit of a running joke with my mom, who would then call me and say “Guess what your sister asked for, just like always?”
We grew up eating milanesa, although my mother rarely made it so we would have to wait to go to Uruguay to eat it again. This dish is so typical in Argentina and Uruguay, truly a classic meal: take a thin slice of meat (generally beef, but sometimes chicken), cover it in bread crumbs and egg, and fry it. It’s quite an amazing combination of foods and very easy to make. I remember watching my mother make the milanesa, pounding the beef with a silver mallet that had little ridged edges and left tiny marked raised pyramids. The pounding of the meat was definitely creepy, like you were beating the animal into submission prior to ingesting its flesh, but surprisingly also a little therapeutic. I always wanted one of those mallets, but by the time I had actually started cooking I was a vegetarian and no longer had a need for it.
When I moved to Argentina, I soon realized that meat was not a crucial milanesa ingredient, as those folk will literally make milanesas out of anything- fish, eggplant, soybeans, butternut squash; if it could be coated it in breadcrumbs and egg and fried, it was. Unfortunately, not all of these combinations work well, and sometimes it’s a bit of a let down. Especially with eggplant- you would think this would be delicious, but many times it is gooey or thick and undercooked on the inside. However, the other day, my husband surprised me by making the most amazing eggplant milanesas I’ve ever had. He realized that the missing step was slightly drying out the eggplant in the oven so that it was soft and smooth by the time it was fried. I was so blown away I had to share it with the world. Thanks to my husband, I can now make some amazing (albeit vegetarian and gluten-free) milanesas the next time my sister comes to visit. With pascualina on the side, of course.
2 medium size purple eggplants
4 eggs, beaten
About 3-4 cups of breadcrumbs (I use gluten free panko breadcrumbs, or toast my own GF bread and throw it in the foodprocessor)- you may need more, depending on how thick you coat the eggplant.
Approx. 1/2 cup of quinoa flour (or any flour you have on hand)
1/3 cup of nutritional yeast
Small handful of parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
Spices for seasoning (you can use whatever you have- garlic, thyme, rosemary, oregano, chili flakes, it is your choice here)
A few spoonfuls of coconut oil
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Cut the eggplant lengthwise into 6 long fillets (each fillet should be about 3/4 of an inch) without peeling it. Place on a cookie sheet with parchment paper and shake some sea salt onto the fillets. Cook for about 30 minutes, turning halfway. The fillets should be tender, but not overcooked, and dry on the outside.
Prepare a dish with the egg, and mix in the parsley, salt and pepper. Prepare a separate dish with the breadcrumbs, nutritional yeast and spices all mixed together. Grab a dry fillet, lightly coat both sides with the quinoa flour, then dip it into the egg dish until it is completely immersed in the egg mixture. Lay the fillet on the breadcrumb dish; cover the top with a pretty thick layer of breadcrumbs and press down on the fillet firmly with the palm of your hand. This will help the breadcrumbs stick to the fillet. Set aside until you have about 4-6 fillets done.
Heat a large frying pan over medium-low heat and add a generous spoonful of coconut oil- there should be a thin layer of oil in the pan. Cook the fillets on one side until slightly browned, then turn over. Turn it over once more on each side so that it is nicely browned and cooked all the way through- this shouldn’t take too long, as it has already been cooked in the oven, so a few minutes on either side is likely enough. If it is burning, turn down the heat and add more oil. The trick is to not let the pan get too hot, and also make sure you remove the browned breadcrumbs that have fallen off the fillets before frying a second batch. Repeat until all the milanesas are ready. You can also heat the oven to 200 and place the first batch into the oven so that they do not cool- alternatively, eat the milanesas straight from the pan. Squeeze some lemon onto the fried milanesa before eating.
Note: if you have leftover egg and breadcrumbs, mix it together with a splash of milk and fry it up with the remaining oil. This is called a buñuelo.