Looking for a simple way to squeeze more nutritious veggies into meal or snack times? I think you’ll love these light and crisp air fryer eggplant bites. They’re crunchy, they’re flavorful, and they’re so easy to make. Move over, eggplant parmesan, there’s a new dish in town.
Why I Love This Recipe
Veggie side dishes and apps do not have to be the outcasts at mealtimes. They can absolutely be the star of your meal or snack and leave you and your guests wanting more.
These air-fried eggplant bites are easy to make and will help you polish off an entire eggplant (or several) in record time.
Just prep your eggplant, bread it using a super simple method, and air fry to perfection.
The result will be perfectly crispy and flavorful eggplant morsels that work great as a side dish or appetizer.
I love this dish because it’s a light, healthy, and easy way to enjoy more vegetables. However, you may have heard some conflicting claims on the healthfulness of vegetables like eggplant, so let’s dig into those, shall we?
Nightshades – friend or foe?
Eggplants belong to a group of plants called nightshades, which include peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, and spices like chili powder, paprika, and red pepper flakes.
Nightshade vegetables have received some bad press from people like Tom Brady, who cut them out of concern they cause inflammation in the body.
But is this true?
The rationale behind eliminating nightshades is based on several theories, but the main one asserts that nightshades contain naturally occurring chemical compounds called alkaloids, which can cause inflammation and negatively impact the integrity of your gut lining. Proponents of this theory have linked that effect to autoimmune conditions, arthritis, and irritable bowel syndrome.
In short, we don’t have enough rigorous scientific studies to prove this is the case in humans. Many studies of alkaloids and nightshade vegetables were performed in test tubes or animals and used higher doses of these compounds than the average person would eat. (See this article on nightshades from Healthline for a more in-depth review of the research.)
The take-home point? For most people, these vegetables are perfectly safe and nutritious. If you personally don’t feel good after eating nightshade vegetables like eggplant, you don’t have to eat them.
Sweat your eggplant
Although it may not look like it, veggies like eggplant are full of water! While this is great for keeping you hydrated, it’s not so great for dishes you want to be crispy and not soggy…
But, we can fix this! After you’ve chopped your eggplant into 1-inch pieces, spread it out on a baking tray covered with paper towel, and salt liberally.
Salting the eggplant will draw little droplets of water out and give you a crispier final product.
This process does take awhile, but I promise, you don’t want to skip this step.
Lazy breading method
Breading can be a pain in the butt. You have to coat each item in egg or another binder, then coat it evenly in breadcrumbs. This takes a long time if you’re breading lots of small items individually.
I give you – the lazy breading method.
First, dunk all of your eggplant pieces in a large bowl with egg wash. (I use egg white.)
Then, add your breading mixture to the bowl and stir until coated. (Or use a bowl with a lid and shake for a super lazy and mess-free experience.)
Air fry to perfection
Air fryers might seem intimidating, but they’re really easy to use.
For recipes you could otherwise roast at a high temp in your oven, you can just crank the heat in your air fryer up and toss it every 5 minutes. This prevents clumping and helps you check for doneness.
Depending on how crispy you like your eggplant bites, you can air fry them for either 10 or 15 minutes.
For extra flavor, serve this dish with a zesty dipping sauce like my chili aioli.
Frequently Asked Questions
For crispy eggplant dishes, add salt to cut eggplant pieces and let sit for at least 20 minutes. You’ll start to see little droplets of water on the eggplant’s surface, which means the salt is drawing water out of the eggplant flesh!
If you like the skin, nope! Eggplant skin is edible and adds texture and color to this dish.
- Vegan version – Instead of egg white, use an oil spray. Omit the parmesan cheese or replace it with nutritional yeast.
- Egg-free – Use oil spray instead of egg white.
- Dairy-free – Omit the parmesan cheese or replace it with nutritional yeast.
- Low-carb version – Replace panko breadcrumbs with almond flour.
- Large batch – You can absolutely multiply this to feed a crowd! You’ll just need to work in batches once you get to the cooking step so you don’t crowd the air fryer basket.
Crispy Air Fryer Eggplant Bites
- air fryer
- 2 cups eggplant (one medium)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 egg white
- ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- Wash eggplant, then chop into 1 inch cubes. Cover a baking sheet with paper towel, then spread eggplant out on the prepared sheet. Sprinkle with salt and let sit for 25 mins. (This draws excess water out of the eggplant.) Pat dry after 25 mins.2 cups eggplant, 1 tsp salt
- Preheat the air fryer to 400°F.
- Whip egg white in a medium bowl. Add chopped eggplant to the bowl and toss until it is evenly coated and glossy.1 egg white
- Add panko, parmesan, Italian seasoning, cayenne pepper, and black pepper to a small bowl and whisk together. Pour into bowl containing eggplant and egg white, then toss to coat.½ cup panko breadcrumbs, 3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese, 1 tbsp Italian seasoning, 1 pinch cayenne pepper, ¼ tsp black pepper
- Air fry in preheated air fryer for 10 minutes, shaking after 5. (Optional – For extra crispy, cook an extra 5 minutes.)
- Serve immediately and enjoy with a dipping sauce of your choice. (My chili aioli recipe is perfect for this!)
- Please note that nutrition facts are an estimate and can vary widely based on amounts and specific types used.