'Cooking up opportunity' for homeless women

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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BALTIMORE, Md. - About 3.5 million Americans are likely to be homeless in any given year. Among industrialized nations, the U.S. has the largest number of homeless women and children. Now, an accomplished chef has made it her mission to help these women get back on their feet. She's helping them cook up opportunity!

The slicing, the sizzle, and the smells; Chef Connie Crabtree-Burritt loves it all as she helps homeless women learn her passion.

"One of the things that we know is to get out of a bad situation," Crabtree-Burritt said. "You need to work, and one of the things I know is that culinary can be a career."

She offers three, eight-week programs a year. The women learn cooking and life skills.

"You're not going to be a chef in eight weeks, but you can be a good employee," Crabtree-Burritt explained.

Erica Black and Tellita Crawford came to Crabtree-Burritt with no home and no job. Now, they both work in the food industry. 

"I really realized that I have a talent in food service," Crawford said.

"It's just given me a lot of hope for the future," said Black.

Crabtree-Burritt instructed them on how to make an Eggplant Napoleon.   

First, they sliced tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and the eggplant. Next, the eggplant pieces went in water and lemon juice. 

Then, they dipped the eggplant in an egg wash, coated it with breadcrumbs, and fried it in a pan.

Next came the stacking. They added a dab of habanero sauce, and then a layer of eggplant, cheese, tomato, another eggplant, a little tomato, some lemon zest, and parsley to top it off.  The final product was simple but elegant. Crabtree-Burritt said cooking is fun, but also hard work.

"If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen," she explained. "That's pretty much how it is!"

However, these women can take the heat and it's changed their lives!

Crabtree-Burritt said her program has a job employment rate of about 40 percent, but that number fluctuates. The classes are small consisting typically of eight to ten students at a time.

For more information on Baltimore Outreach Services, go to http://www.baltimoreoutreach.org/.

Recipe for Eggplant Napoleon
(Printable recipe here)


  • 3 medium eggplants (2 1/2 to 3 pounds total), stem and root ends trimmed and discarded, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
  • Sea salt for sprinkling
  • 1/4 cup Basil Pesto
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Juice of 3 lemons
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 egg whites, beaten
  • 2 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Corn oil for frying
  • 3 cups Mutabal

For the Salad:
  • 8 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 7 tablespoons Basil Pesto
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch sea salt


Arrange the eggplant slices on two sheet pans, sprinkle with salt, and set aside for 30 minutes or until they begin to sweat. Using a paper towel, pat the slices dry and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the pesto, olive oil, garlic and lemon juice. Toss in the eggplant to coat and let marinate at room temperature for at least 1 hour or overnight in the refrigerator.

Dump the flour onto a shallow rimmed plate. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg whites and 1 cup of water. Combine the panko, Parmigiano-Reggiano, parsley and pepper on a second shallow rimmed plate.

Spread a sheet of waxed paper on a clean work surface. Working with one slice of eggplant at a time, dredge it in the flour first, shaking off the excess, and then dip it in the egg mixture followed by the breadcrumbs. Gently press the breadcrumbs onto both sides of the eggplant and place on the waxed paper. Repeat with the remaining eggplant slices.

Pour at least 2 inches of corn oil into a small, deep pot. Heat the oil over high until hot but not smoking. Working in batches, fry the eggplant slices until golden, turning once, 3 to 5 minutes. Do not crowd the pot. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggplant slices to a paper towel–lined platter to drain.

Place an eggplant slice on a small plate. Spread with 2 tablespoons of the baba ghanouj, top with a second eggplant slice and spread 1 tablespoon of baba ghanouj on top. Repeat layering in this order with the remaining eggplant slices and baba ghanouj to make eight to ten eggplant stacks.

Just before serving, toss together the salad: In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes and onion. In a small bowl, whisk together the pesto, lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Drizzle just enough of the pesto mixture over the tomato-onion mixture to thoroughly coat. Spoon some salad around each napoleon and drizzle the napoleons with some of the dressing left in the bottom of the bowl. Serve immediately.

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