Aubergine, the much maligned vegetable and the main ingredient in moussaka, has suffered much misunderstanding over the years.* If cooked well however, this wonderful vegetable adds delicious taste and texture to lasagne, pasta, and dips. Be prepared to overcome any previous prejudice through the magic of this Greek winter warmer, full of aubergines, cheese, tomato and lentils for a cold November night.
Catherine, who is currently studying other unknown and misunderstood plants for her PhD, introduced me to this fantastic vegetarian version of a meaty dish, which was subsequently a huge hit with my family. Why not invite your friends or family round one night and amaze them with your amazing vegetarian culinary skills?
The only essential part of a moussaka is the aubergine, so if you don’t have all the ingredients below, feel free to let your imagination run wild with the possibilities of other ingredients you could layer with aubergine. If you’re short of time, mozzarella can easily replace the butter, flour, milk and (cheddar) cheese needed for the cheese sauce.
*I’m sure the American name for aubergine, eggplant, probably doesn’t help its public image.
Catherine’s Lentil Moussaka
Serves 2-3 people, depending on how hungry you are.
You will need:
A small oven dish to bake the moussaka in
2 – 3 tbsp oil, + extra for the aubergine
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and grated or chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped (optional)
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
100g red lentils, rinsed (green/brown will also work but note that they may take longer to cook) – if you’re feeling lazy you can buy a tin of lentils and substitute it easily
1 pepper, chopped, or any other vegetable (mushrooms, courgettes, etc work well. If not, add another 50g lentils)
1 tin tomatoes
Squeeze of tomato puree (optional)
1 tsp cinnamon
dried herbs (oregano, basil, etc)
Salt and pepper
25g (2 oz.) butter
2 tbsp flour
25g cheese, grated
- First, make the lentil bolognese which will be layered with the aubergine. Heat the oil over a medium heat in a medium saucepan.
- Add the onion and cook gently for a few minutes before adding the celery, then the garlic. After 5 minutes, add the carrot. Raise the temperature and cook until the carrot is beginning to soften.
- Add the peppers (or other veg), lentils, tinned tomatoes, stock, tomato puree, cinnamon, and herbs. Bring this mixture to a simmer.
- Turn down the heat, put the lid on the pan, and cook the sauce until the lentils are cooked (around 20 mintues). Make sure to stir it every 3-5 minutes to ensure the sauce doesn’t stick to the bottom. Continue to cook with the lid off until the sauce is thick with no leftover liquid. Season according to taste.
- Whilst the sauce is cooking, cook the aubergine. Preheat the grill of your oven to a high temperature (around 180 – 200°C). Slice the aubergines as thinly as you can. Coat them lightly with oil by either shaking them around in a bowl with a few tablespoons oil, or brushing them. Arrange them on a baking sheet under the grill. Once they turn a light brown, turn them around. You may need to do this in batches.
- Alternatively, you can cook them in a frying pan: after coating them with a little oil, heat a large frying pan and cook them for a few minutes on each side, until golden brown.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Once the sauce and the aubergine are both ready, layer them in your oven dish. Start with a third of your sauce, top it with half your aubergines, then another third of sauce, finish the aubergines, and then put the rest of the sauce on top.
- Make the cheese sauce: start by melting the butter in a small saucepan. Add the flour and stir it in. Cook this paste, stirring, for a minute over a low heat. Then gradually add the milk, stirring after each addition to ensure you don’t make a lumpy sauce. Once the milk is all added, simmer over a low heat for a few minutes until the sauces is thick, and add the cheese, stirring until it’s all melted. Season well, and grate some nutmeg in too if you have some.
- Pour the sauce over your moussaka, and put it in the oven for around 20-30 minutes until the top is beautifully golden brown. Enjoy with a salad, along with the realisation that aubergine is a great, great vegetable.