Sunday, May 11, 2014

Cajun Shrimp Eggplant Casserole

Spicy eggplant and shrimp casserole is a traditional dish in any Cajun kitchen. It took me a while to come around to loving it but now it's a true family favorite.

My daughters will tell you that a lot of my recipe instructions start with frying bacon and garlic. They like to say ALL but then, they are given to hyperbole and come by that tendency naturally from all the storytellers in our family. As my father always says, “Why let the truth get in the way of a good story?” His own father, their great-grandfather used to say that he didn’t trust a man who could tell a story only one way. So you have to take us all with a grain of salt. 

But it is the gospel truth when I tell you that most Cajun recipes start with we call the holy trinity: onions, bell pepper and celery. This one is no different.

This week, along with the rest of North America and many countries around the globe, Sunday Supper is celebrating mothers so I wanted to make a dish that my mom loves. When I was a child, this shrimp eggplant casserole was one my mom thoroughly enjoyed and my grandmother made it often when we were visiting. I hated it!  Frankly, I hated all things eggplant. I think it was a textural thing. 

I had already had my second child and was 30 years old before I was introduced to eggplant Parmigiana.  Finally, an eggplant dish I liked! But that encouraged me to give some others another try and I am pleased to say that my mom’s favorite is now one of mine too. I don’t know that I make exactly like my grandmother did all those years ago, but I begin with the Cajun holy trinity, and bacon, and that’s the best start.

Happy Mother’s Day to my great traveling companion, positive thinker, faithful role model and unendingly generous mother! I love you, Mom, and wish we were celebrating together today.

My family bookends. They support me from both sides and I am blessed.

Cajun Shrimp Eggplant Casserole

Every Cajun cook has a recipe for a version of this spicy eggplant casserole with shrimp. This one is my attempt to replicate my maternal grandmother’s, in honor of her eldest daughter, my own dear mother.

1 medium onion
1 medium green bell pepper or capsicum
3 stalks celery
4 cloves garlic
3 medium eggplants or aubergine (about 2 lbs or just less than 1 kg)
Sea salt
5 slices sandwich bread (I use whole grain because that’s all I ever buy.)
1 cup milk
1.5 lbs or 680g shrimp, already peeled and cleaned
2 slices bacon
Olive oil
1 1/2 cups or 135g grated Parmesan, divided
2 eggs
2 small chili peppers, minced, or 1 teaspoon chili paste or cayenne
Few good grinds of black pepper
1 cup or 125g dried breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons butter
Parsley for garnish, optional

Finely chop the onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic.

Peel the eggplant and cut it into cubes. Put them in a large bowl, cover with cool water and sprinkle with fine sea salt.

Cut your bread slices into pieces and soak them with the milk.

In a large pan, big enough to eventually hold all your cubed eggplant, sauté the shrimp with a drizzle of olive oil, until just pink. Lightly season with sea salt. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Now fry the slices of bacon with another drizzle of olive oil until crispy and remove them from the pan. Chop them into small pieces.

Tip the onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic into the bacon pan and sauté until they are all soft. Drizzle in a little olive oil if the pan seems dry.

Preheat your oven to 350°F or 180°C and grease a large casserole dish with a little olive oil.

Drain the eggplant in a colander and add it to the bacon pan. Cook the eggplant until it is softened as well. This takes about 10 minutes but you can put a lid on the pan to speed it up a little.

In a very large mixing bowl – I use my largest salad bowl – combine your soaked bread, 2 eggs, bacon, chilies, shrimp and half of the grated Parmesan.  Stir until very well combined.

Add in the sautéed eggplant and a few good grinds of black pepper and stir well.

Pour the whole bowl into your prepared casserole dish and spread the contents out evenly.

Mix your breadcrumbs with the remaining Parmesan and sprinkle this to cover the eggplant mixture.

Cut the butter into little slices and dot them around the top of the casserole.

Bake in your preheated oven for about half an hour or until the casserole is golden brown and bubbling.

Sprinkle with a little chopped parsley when serving, if desired.


Does your mom have a special dish she loves? Does your family have inviolate Mother’s Day traditions? I’d love to hear about them so please leave me a comment. Meanwhile, check out all the lovely dishes and desserts my Sunday Supper group is sharing today, along with our talented host, Liz from That Skinny Chick Can Bake.

Mother's Day Breakfast:
Mother's Day Appetizers, Soups and Salads:
Mother's Day Main Dishes:
Mother's Day Desserts:

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