This vegan eggplant casserole features creamy Moroccan-spiced eggplant and hearty chickpeas in tomato sauce and topped with mashed potatoes.
This recipe is sort of like an eggplant shepherd’s pie but the flavours are autumnal and reminiscent of North Africa with cinnamon, cumin and lemon zest.
Eggplant is relatively bland on its own but takes on the flavour of spices and seasonings very well, making it an ideal vegetable for this Moroccan shepherd’s pie recipe.
A lot of people dislike eggplant, but when it is cooked correctly, it’s creamy, flavourful and can lend a “meaty” texture to vegan recipes.
There’s a lot of confusion about the bitterness of eggplant and how best to prepare it, so let’s go over some basics first.
How to prepare eggplant
There’s a lot of tips and tricks for preparing eggplant, but the reasoning behind them isn’t always accurate.
Many people say that eggplant needs to be soaked before cooking or that you should sprinkle salt on the eggplant and then pat it dry.
This is based on the idea that eggplant is bitter and the salt draws out the bitter juices.
In reality, eggplants nowadays have been selectively bred to not be bitter. I, personally, have never come across a bitter eggplant!
For this vegan eggplant casserole which first fries the eggplant before adding it to a flavourful sauce, soaking or salting the eggplant is not necessary.
Another common question when preparing eggplant is if it needs to be peeled.
The peels do have a tougher texture than the flesh but they also help the sliced eggplant hold its shape.
For this recipe it doesn’t matter if you peel the eggplants since it doesn’t matter if the eggplant cubes hold their shape.
Personally, I like to keep the skin on because it has a lot of vitamins and is very good for you!
Ingredients you’ll need
This recipe uses a lot of canned goods, which makes it a fairly economical recipe. Eggplants are in season in late summer/early fall so that’s when you’ll get them at the best price.
Eggplants: You can use any type of eggplant. Standard purple globe eggplants are fine. You can see in the photo that I used a purple stripped eggplant. There isn’t any difference for this recipe.
Chickpeas: A can of chickpeas adds heartiness and texture to this vegan eggplant casserole.
Potatoes: Choose a variety of potato that’s good for mashing like russet of Yukon gold.
Onion and garlic: Always important to include these as the flavour base.
Diced tomato: A can of diced tomatoes makes this recipe easy. If tomatoes are in season, you can substitute the can for 4 - 5 diced fresh tomatoes.
Tomato paste: Helps to thicken the sauce and add a bit of sweetness which is especially important if you’re using canned diced tomatoes which can be a bit sour.
Vegan butter and milk: For the mashed potato topping. Make sure your plant-based milk is unsweetened.
Spices: Cinnamon, cumin and turmeric give this recipe a Moroccan or autumn feel. Salt and pepper as well.
Lemon zest: The lemon zest helps brighten and tie all the flavours together, as well as giving the dish a North African feel. I didn’t use lemon juice since canned tomatoes are already a bit sour.
How to cook vegan eggplant casserole
Just like with a standard vegan shepherd’s pie, this recipe has a few steps before it all gets put together. It’s all relatively easy, though, just follow along step-by-step!
Prepare the mashed potatoes: Start by putting the potatoes on to boil since this will take the longest time.
Personally, I like to boil them whole without peeling or dicing. This is because dicing the potatoes allows them to absorb water. The mash is less soft and fluffy that way.
Boiling the potatoes whole takes more time, however, so if you’re short on time you can peel and dice them.
Place the potatoes in a pot of water, cover the pot and bring it to a boil. Simmer until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a knife.
Remove them from the pot and set aside to cool for a bit. Once they’re cool enough to touch, the skin will easily slide off with your fingers.
Place the peeled potatoes in a bowl and mash them up, adding vegan butter, plant-based milk, salt and pepper.
Cook the eggplant: While the potatoes are boiling you can start preparing the filling.
I like to work with the eggplants one at a time because once they’re cut, the flesh will start to oxidize and turn brown.
Dice up one eggplant.
Heat a large pan over medium heat and add a couple tablespoons of oil.
Once hot add the eggplant. Be careful not to crowd the pan. Eggplant will brown better when it has a lot of space. Crowding the pan will cause it to steam rather than fry.
Toss the eggplant often and fry until it’s golden brown on all sides and soft and creamy in the centre.
Remove this first batch to a plate, then repeat with the second eggplant.
Prepare the filling: Once the eggplant is golden brown, you can prepare the rest of the filling.
First fry off the onion and garlic. Then add the tomato paste and give it a minute to cook out and darken slightly in colour.
Add the spices and give them another minute to cook and bring out their flavours.
Now add in the canned tomatoes, chickpeas and about ¼ cup of water. Allow this to gently simmer for about 5 minutes or until the sauce is nice and thick.
Return the fried eggplant to the pan, grate over the lemon zest and season with salt and pepper.
If your potatoes aren’t ready yet, you can turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep it warm until you’re ready to combine.
Combine: In a casserole dish, pour in the eggplant chickpea filling and smooth it out with a spoon.
Spoon the mashed potatoes overtop and carefully smooth them out with the back of your spoon.
Run a fork over the top of the mashed potatoes. This creates peaks that will brown and crispen nicely under the grill.
Bake: Place the casserole in the top of the oven under the grill and grill until the mashed potato started to turn golden and crispy.
Substitutions and variations
Potatoes: This recipe would be excellent and very autumn-like with sweet potato mash. You could also use cauliflower, parsnip, squash or pumpkin mash in place of the mashed potatoes.
Spices: Since eggplant and chickpeas are great at taking on whatever flavour, feel free to change up the spices. Try garam masala or ras al hanout.
Tomatoes: I’ve made this recipe with canned tomatoes and fresh tomatoes, but only when fresh tomatoes are in season and have the best flavour. Substitute on can of diced tomatoes for 4 - 5 medium fresh tomatoes.
Chickpeas: A common meat substitute in vegan shepherd’s pie is brown lentils. If you want to replace the chickpeas in this recipe, try lentils.
For eggplant casserole, the variety of eggplant doesn’t make much of a difference. Standard purple eggplant or striped eggplant are good choices.
Choose eggplants that are heavy for their size with firm flesh that bounces back when pressed. Don’t choose soft or wrinkly eggplants since they’ve likely been sitting around for a while.
Eggplants can be stored in a cool, dark place like a cellar at a temperature of around 50 - 54 F (10 - 12 C). If you don’t have such a cool place, eggplants can be store in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator for about a week.
Make ahead and storage tips
Make ahead: If you want to save time for a later meal, you can prepare the filling and keep it in an airtight container in the fridge until you’re ready to put the casserole together.
This is also a great way to use up any leftover mashed potato that you have from a previous meal.
Refrigerator: This eggplant shepherd’s pie keep well in the fridge for several days without losing flavour or compromising the texture.
Cover the pan tightly with foil, or transfer leftovers to an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 5 days.
This dish can be reheated in the microwave.
Freezer: As with any shepherd’s pie, this vegan eggplant casserole is freezer-friendly.
Once baked, allow the casserole to cool in the fridge. Then, tightly cover it with foil and transfer it to the freezer. Freeze for up to three months.
You can place the frozen casserole directly in a 350F oven for an hour, or until hot through, or you can allow it to defrost in the fridge overnight before warming in the oven.
What to serve with eggplant casserole
Shepherd’s pie is a hearty main dish that’s great served on it’s own.
Pair this eggplant casserole with a green salad, crusty or garlic bread, a nice vegan soup, steamed vegetables of your choice or vegan Yorkshire pudding.
Vegan Eggplant Casserole
- 3 medium potatoes about 2 lbs / 900 grams
- 3 tablespoons vegan butter
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened plant-based milk
- 2 teaspoons salt divided
- Pepper to taste
- 3 - 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 medium eggplants about 23 oz / 650 grams all together
- ½ onion diced
- 3 cloves of garlic minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 14-oz (400 gram) can diced tomatoes
- 1 14-oz (400 gram) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- ¼ cup (60 ml) water
- Zest of one lemon
- Place the potatoes in a medium pot and cover with water. Cover the pot with its lid and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes can be pierced with a knife - about 20 minutes.
- Remove the potatoes from the water and allow to cool. Once cool enough to touch, peel off the skin, place the potatoes in a bowl and mash, adding the vegan butter, milk, 1 teaspoon of salt and pepper. Once mashed, set aside.
- While the potatoes are cooking, dice one of the eggplants into cubes. Heat a large pan over medium heat and add 1 - 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the diced eggplant and fry, stirring from time to time, until golden brown on all sides and soft all the way through - about 10 minutes.
- Remove the eggplant to a plate and repeat with the second eggplant and remove it to the plate.
- Add another drizzle of oil to the pan and fry the onion and garlic until soft and fragrant. Add the tomato paste and fry, stirring, for 2 minutes or until the paste darkens slightly. Add the spices and fry for 30 seconds to bring out the flavours.
- Add the can of diced tomatoes, water, and chickpeas. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and simmer until you have a thick tomato sauce - about 5 minutes.
- Add the eggplant, grate over the lemon zest and add the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt to the pan.
- Transfer the filling to a casserole dish and spoon over the mashed potato. Smooth the mashed potato to cover the filling, then run a fork over it to created peaks and crevices that will brown nicely in the oven.
- Transfer the casserole to the top of the oven under the grill and grill until the mashed potato is golden brown and beginning to crisp - about 10 minutes.
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