Moussaka is one of the most famous dishes from Greece, but it’s actually eaten in various forms all throughout the Mediterranean region. Typically moussaka has a layer of minced lamb in it, so for a long time it’s been off the table. However, Miriam got to try a vegetarian version while visiting the Greek regions of Cyprus last year, and loved it – so we were determined to make see if it could be recreated. Cyril did some research and got creative in figuring out what to sub in for the meat, and here’s what we came up with.
To make this moussaka, you’ll need:
First, take your eggplant and cut it into thin slices (they don’t have to be perfect, as you can see). Lay the slices down on towels and sprinkle with salt, to help release all the water, then set them aside for at least half an hour.
At this point in time you can also begin preparing your lentils: in a pot measure one cup of dry lentils into 3 cups of water and bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and cover the pot while letting everything simmer for 15-20 minutes until the lentils have plumped up and absorbed all the water.
While you’re waiting on the eggplant and lentils, slice up your zucchini and pan-fry it with olive oil over medium-high heat in the largest skillet you have. You’ll want to cook the slices in a single layer, letting them brown on each side (which should take 3-4 minutes per side), and then set them aside to drain and cool on paper towels.
Slice up your potatoes as well and cook them the same way in the pan, adding more olive oil as needed.
Now take your eggplant slices and wipe off the water, then gently press them into the towels to squeeze out any extra moisture. Cook these in the pan too, letting them brown in more olive oil.
Now cut up your onion and put it into the pan along with 2 or 3 chopped garlic cloves. Cook these veggies until the onion begins to brown. Pour in a tablespoon of vinegar and let it come to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium-low and place your whole tomatoes into the pan.
Scoop the cooked lentils into the pan, along with a teaspoon of dried oregano and a large handful of parsley leaves. Stir everything together and let this mixture simmer for 15 minutes.
At the end it should look something like this:
Now take a large casserole dish and line the bottom with 1/3 of the eggplant, then 1/3 of the zucchini.
Add half of the potatoes on top …
… then sprinkle on a cup of feta, then spread the lentil mixture on top of that.
Add another 1/3 of the eggplant, 1/3 of the zucchini, and the rest of the potatoes into the casserole, then top everything with the remaining eggplant and zucchini.
Now you’re going to be making the sauce that goes on top of the moussaka: in a small pan melt 2 tablespoons of butter, then whisk in 1/4 cup of flour and 1 1/2 cups of milk and bring everything to a boil, stirring constantly until the mixture gets thick.
Add in a little bit of nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste, then take the pan off the heat and add in a beaten egg, whisking everything until you have a smooth béchamel sauce.
Pour the sauce on top of your casserole and top everything with a layer of grated Parmesan cheese.
Cover your dish with foil and bake the moussaka for 25 minutes, then uncover it and bake for another 25-30 minutes, until the sauce starts to brown on top. Once you take it out of the oven and let it cool slightly, you can cut it into slices and serve!
We thought this was a really excelleny meat-free substitute for traditional moussaka: the lentils, when cooked once by boiling and then again with the tomatoes and onions, provide a texture that’s pretty similar to ground meat. Sandwiched in between eggplant, zucchini, and potatoes and seasoned with spices and herbs, this makes for a great, tasty casserole – and the béchamel sauce on top ties everything together nicely. This isn’t a dish you can pull off quickly, because it takes a while to slice and cook all the vegetables, but think of all those little Greek yayas who for generations spent all day in the kitchen making moussaka: if they can do it, you can too, only now you’ve got a vegetarian version of your own.