A rich layering of lentils, eggplant, tomatoes, mushrooms and more, this vegetable moussaka is a winner, or so the boys in the family say. It’s been part of my husband’s family repertoire since he was in high school. His mother had started paid work again, and everyone in the family was asked to cook one meal a week. This was his. It suited his early adulthood-running-vegetarian phase, and it delivered a really delicious vegan meal at the same time.
So of course I made this when my mother-in-law picked it out of an old cookbook as something she used to cook all the time. She’s a bit forgetful, so the distinction between she cooked and he cooked is less well defined than it once was.
- 50 grams of lentils
- 600 ml of water
- 1 onion
- 1 clove of garlic
- 2 or 3 large mushrooms
- 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
- a handful of fresh oregano (2 teaspoons of dried)
- ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg (up to ½, depending on your taste)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 eggplant
- 2 potatoes
- 2 tomatoes
- sauce for topping: 1 tablepsoon of cornflour, up to 1 cup of milk, 1 teaspoon of dijon mustard
- 1 cup of chopped herbs, such as a combination of parsley, oregano, marjoram
- olive oil
- Simmer the lentils in water for 45 minutes to an hour (until they are soft). Check about halfway through and top up with some boiling water if you need to.
- Chop the onions, garlic and mushrooms. Slice the potatoes, eggplant and tomatoes into thin slices.
- Cook the sliced potatoes until they are tender but not mushy: we find about 10 minutes on high in our microwave does the trick.
- Saute the onions and garlic in some olive oil, then add the chopped mushrooms and the cooked lentils. Fry for a few more minutes until the mushrooms are cooked, then spoon the mixture into a separate bowl, stir in the tomato paste, oregano, nutmeg, salt and pepper, and set aside.
- Lightly fry the eggplant in the same pan, using the same oil. Each side takes about 5 minutes, depending on how hot you have the pan. You’ll find the eggplant soaks up the oil quite quickly, so add more oil as you need to. Let the cooked slices drain on kitchen paper to remove excess oil once they’re cooked.
- In a 3- or 4-litre ovenproof dish, assemble the moussaka. Spoon the vegetable mix in so it easily covers the bottom of the dish, put a layer of potato the eggplant on top of that, then more vegetable mix and so on. We seem to get about two complete sequences out of this.
- Then make the topping. Mix the cornflour, mustard and a little of the milk into a paste, then slowly stir in more of the milk until you’ve used about ¾ of it. Then heat this over a low heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens. Add more of the milk if it gets too thick. you want to be able to pour the sauce over the top of the moussaka, but have it thick enough to stay on the top (since it’s a topping).
- When the sauce is done, pour it over the top of the moussaka to cover it.
- Bake the dish in a 180ºCelcius (350F) oven for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling up the sides. The topping might brown, depending on how you made it (see the notes).
- While it’s cooking, chop the herb mix as finely as you can, then mix it with enough olive oil to keep it together. Your aim is for it to sit across the top of the moussaka and be moist enough to be edible, but not so mushy you have a herb paste. You could use a blender, but you’ll end up with paste rather than a topping of freshly chopped herbs.
- Take the moussaka out, and sprinkle the chopped herb – oil mix across the top. It should look like this:
This is a fiddly recipe, so you’ll need to start a good two hours before you want to eat.
The sauce of the topping is a basic white sauce. The original recipe called for butter (to start the sauce) and egg and grated cheese to give something much richer. This version makes it easy to have a dairy-free option since you can just use non-dairy milk.
50 grams of lentils looks like nothing. The first time I made this, I doubled it, then used only half the result. It really is all you need, unless you have a very large eggplant and more mushrooms.
Source: A Sarah Brown recipe, in The Best of TV Cookery, Hennerwood Publications, London, 1986.