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Vegan Eggplant Involtini with Harissa Sauce

Vegan Eggplant Involtini with Harissa Sauce

Vegan Eggplant Involtini with Harissa Sauce

As a vegetarian, eggplant has many-a-times been my saving grace. Back in the nineties when I was afraid of tofu, and veggie burgers were nowhere to be found, there was always eggplant. Eggplant makes a wicked delicious meatless main course, and bonus: non-vegetarians are generally down with eggplant too. The only problem with eggplant, I discovered when I started cooking it up myself, is that so many eggplant-based dishes are fried, and eggplant can suck up a heck of a lot of oil. During my first home-cooking eggplant Parm experience I watched my own hand in dismay as it repeatedly tipped the bottle of olive oil again and again.

So whenever I discover a new eggplant cooking technique that doesn’t involve buckets of oil, I’m immediately on board. Eggplant involtini is my new favorite such method.

How’s the whole eggplant involtini thing work? Basically, you brush eggplant strips with just a bit of olive oil, bake until tender, then roll it up with fillings and bake it up again, this time in some flavorful sauce. Because the eggplant is sliced thin, it gets plenty tender during baking, and then it soaks up the sauce and some of the moisture from your fillings, so you still get that tender-melt-in your mouth eggplant texture, even without all the oil.

Vegan Eggplant Involtini with Harissa Sauce

There are a lot of ways to do the whole eggplant roll and bake thing, but most versions involve some type of cheesy filling and tomato sauce. Since cheese is out for me these days, I created a vegan ricotta using tofu and raw cashews. The base is similar to the one I used in last year’s vegan manicotti, but the flavor is totally different, thanks to a few tweaks. Since we’re still in the summer season, and fresh herbs abound, I seasoned this vegan ricotta up with fresh basil. I also sweetened it up just a tad, to give a nice contrast to some salty Kalamata olives that I threw in there. The tomato sauce is really simple, and I kicked it up with some spicy harissa sauce, to give the dish even more flavor contrast. Between the sweet and salty filling, and the spicy sauce, there’s a lot of flavor going on in this dish. It turned out to be one of my favorites as of late, and I don’t think anybody is going to miss the frying or the dairy when they taste it.

Vegan Eggplant Involtini with Harissa Sauce

Vegan Eggplant Involtini with Harissa Sauce

This vegan eggplant involtini is made with tender baked (not fried!) eggplant slices that are stuffed with cashew-based vegan ricotta filling and baked up in spicy harissa tomato sauce.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 4 servings


For the eggplant:

  • 1 large Italian eggplant about 1 ½ pounds
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil

For the harissa sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 28-ounce can tomato puree
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1-2 tablespoons harissa paste or to taste
  • 1 ½ teaspoons maple syrup or granulated sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the vegan ricotta filling:

  • 1 cup raw cashews soaked in water 4 to 8 hours and drained
  • ¼ cup chopped onion about ½ small onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • ¼ cup unflavored soy or almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • ½ pound extra firm tofu drained
  • 1 cup torn fresh basil leaves
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped Kalamata olives
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs


Prepare the eggplant:

  • Preheat oven to 400°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut the top off of the eggplant, and then cut the rest lengthwise into ¼-inch thick slices--you want the slices as long and wide as possible. Lightly brush both sides of each slice with oil, and then arrange them in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the slices are pliable and have just begun to brown, about 12 minutes. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and transfer them to a cooling rack.

Make the harissa tomato sauce:

  • While the eggplant bakes, coat the bottom of a medium saucepan with olive oil, and place it over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion. Sauté until the onion is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté about 1 minute more, until fragrant. Add tomato the puree, tomato paste, harissa, and maple syrup.
  • Bring the sauce to a simmer, then lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, just until the sauce has thickened up a bit. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Make the vegan ricotta filling:

  • Place cashews, onion, garlic, milk, lemon juice and maple syrup into the bowl of a food processor fitted with an S-blade. Process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of bowl as needed. Add the tofu and pulse until the mixture takes on a chunky, ricotta-like texture. Add the basil and Kalamata olives and pulse again, just until they’re evenly incorporated into the mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Make the vegan eggplant involtini:

  • Pour the sauce into the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish, reserving about 1 cup for serving. Place an eggplant slab on a clean work surface, extending away from you, with the wider end closest to you. Spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons of vegan ricotta filling onto the eggplant slab, about a half inch from the end closest to you, then sprinkle the filling with about a teaspoon of panko breadcrumbs. Roll the end of the eggplant slab over the filings, then away from you. Place the eggplant roll into your baking dish, seam side down. Repeat until all the eggplant and fillings are used.
  • Place the baking dish into the oven (which should still be at 400°F) and bake for about 20 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for a few minutes before serving.
  • Top with the reserved sauce and divide onto plates, then serve.


Prep time does not include soaking time for the cashews.
If your eggplant has been hanging around for a few days or shows some browning when you cut it open, you may need to salt it to remove the bitterness. Arrange eggplant slices in a colander and sprinkle generously with salt. Allow to sit for about 30 minutes, then rinse well, pat dry and proceed with the recipe.
Feel free to use your jarred sauce for a quicker version of this dish, but if you can, I really recommend finding a very basic sauce and adding some harissa, or at least red pepper flakes, as the spicy flavor goes really nicely with the ricotta. You’ll need about 2 ½ cups of whatever sauce you go with.
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  • Reply
    London || Gluten Free with L.B.
    August 26, 2016 at 11:30 am

    This is such an inventive combo of flavors!! It looks absolutely delicious, Alissa 🙂

    • Reply
      September 1, 2016 at 8:45 pm

      Thank you so much!

  • Reply
    August 27, 2016 at 8:34 pm

    I made this for the first time for a dinner party-bold move I know. I love to experiment with surprising my non-vegan friends with healthy meals that are not a “SALAD”. This was a bit labor intensive but did not disappoint. Even my husband, a stanch no eggplant kind of guy, was impressed. I made a few changes, just to add a bit more nutrition and to the “ricotta” mixture pulsed in about 3 cups of some finely chopped parsley, baby kale & arugula. I think next time, I might make add some red pepper flakes as well just to give it a bit more zing. Thank you for the recipe!

    • Reply
      September 1, 2016 at 8:46 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it! I love the idea of adding some greens to the ricotta mixture. 🙂 Thanks so much Isha!

  • Reply
    August 31, 2016 at 3:39 am

    I love recipes like this – nutrient dense and leaving you feeling energised after the meal vs. fatigued and bloated.

  • Reply
    March 23, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    This sounds delicious! I love recipes that make use of harissa – it is one of my favorite condiments. Thank you for sharing this eggplant recipe! Definitely a solid vegan recipe for the books!

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