EVENT: SHHH COOKING SECRETLY
THEME: HOT POT SPECIAL
RECIPE: VEGETARIAN MOUSSAKA
Vegetarian Moussaka is a flavorful, creamy and delish version of the original meat moussaka. Herb flavored lentil tomato sauce is spread between layers of vegetables, topped with Béchamel Sauce and baked.
What is a Moussaka?
A Moussaka is a layered casserole dish with minced meat in between layers of vegetables, usually eggplants and potatoes. Mention Moussaka and its generally associated with Greece. But did you know that the dish originates from the Balkan and Middle East. The best known version world wide is the Greek version. Before 1900 Moussaka was simply layers of vegetables and minced meat. Nikolaos Tselementes, a Greek Chef trained in France introduced Béchamel Sauce based Moussaka which caught on pretty fast in the rest of Europe and America.
A bit about the group:
Every month a new theme is chosen by members. Then the participants are paired up. They give each other 2 secret ingredients to use in their recipe which is prepared fitting the theme. As soon as their dish is ready, the photo is shared on our Facebook group and other try and guess the secret ingredients. Finally, towards the end of the month the recipe is shared on the group. This way members get to know each other and interact with each other.
This Month’s Theme
This month Priya who blogs at The World Through My Eyes suggested the theme HOT POT SPECIAL. We had to prepare any dish that is best enjoyed hot. Priya’s vegetarian version of Tom Kha, a Thai Coconut Soup is on my list to prepare when I get some kaffir lime leaves and galangal. The soup can be enjoyed on its own or with rice.
This time I have two partners, Poonam who blogs at Annapurna and Preeti who blogs at Cakes & Curries. Poonam suggested lentil and cheese which gave me the opportunity to pull out the Moussaka recipe from my recipe book. I gave Poonam Spinach and Carom Seeds. Using those ingredients she has prepared Palak Puri/ Spinach Poori which are best enjoyed piping hot.
Preeti wanted to make a dessert so I gave her ghee and nuts. With those ingredients she has prepared …
Some Baked Dishes that may interest you
Vegetable Cheese Macaroni/ Baked Pasta
Handvo – Gujarati Savory Bake
Saturdays were days when my Kaki (aunt) and I would open up Tarla Dalal recipe books and try out International Cuisines. Back then we didn’t have many International Cuisine restaurants in Nairobi besides Indian, Chinese and Italian ones. One day we tried the Moussaka recipe from the cookery book. Just layers of potatoes and eggplants topped with white sauce. The family loved it and become a regular request. After marriage I probably made it twice and forgot all about it. Don’t get me wrong, the new family too loved it but then I got into learning so many other newer recipes. When Priya suggested Hot Pot Special I knew I had brush off the dust from my Moussaka recipe, But with a bit of change.
More About Vegetarian Moussaka
For this recipe, to cut down the baking time, I roasted the potato and eggplant slices. Lentils cooked in a herby and flavorful tomato sauce was spread over the layers of vegetables. Finally a creamy béchamel sauce was the top layer with some grated cheese. Baked and served piping hot with a salad, it makes a filling and delicious meal.
Is there a difference between White Sauce and Béchamel Sauce?
No, there is isn’t. Béchamel Sauce is the French name for the white sauce. To prepare a wonderful creamy silky sauce, the proportion of flour and butter or oil has to be perfect. Also it is vital to use hot milk. If you skim on the butter or oil, the flour does not roast well and becomes pasty. Adding hot milk and stirring the sauce continuously makes it lump free and smooth.
Ingredients required for Vegetarian Moussaka
- Eggplant – aubergine, brinjal – use the long or big variety. I prefer to use the big fat variety as they tend to be more fleshy.
- Potatoes – use the ones that are suitable for roasting or baking
- Onion – finely chopped for the lentil tomato sauce. Use white, yellow or red. Chop finely.
- Garlic – for the lentil tomato sauce. Peel and chop finely.
- Olive oil – need for the lentil tomato sauce and also for roasting the eggplant and potato slices.
- Dried Mixed Herbs– I used dried herbs as I was not able to buy fresh thyme and oregano. Use fresh herbs if you want.
- Cinnamon Powder – for the lentil tomato sauce.
- Salt – for the Béchamel Sauce, the lentil tomato sauce and for sprinkling over the roasted vegetables.
- Water or Stock – for the lentil tomato sauce.
- Fresh Tomato Puree – fresh tomatoes are steamed and pureed.
- Pepper Powder – for the lentil tomato sauce and the Béchamel Sauce.
- Butter– for the Béchamel sauce. Can replace it with oil of your choice.
- Milk – for the Béchamel Sauce
- Flour – generally all purpose flour or wheat is used for the Béchamel Sauce. However, to make it a gluten free meal option I used oats flour.
- Nutmeg Powder – for the Béchamel Sauce.
- Cheese – any of your choice. I’ve used cheddar cheese. Some options are ricotta, feta, mozzarella or Goats Cheese.
- Suitable for a Vegetarian Diet – just make sure you use a rennet free cheese or omit it.
- Gluten Free as I’ve used oats flour.
- For a Vegan Version – avoid using butter for the Béchamel Sauce and also use a vegan friendly milk. Omit cheese or use vegan cheese.
The Vegetable Layers:
- 500 g potatoes
- 400 g eggplant
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp salt
The Lentil Tomato Sauce:
- ½ cup lentils, Puy Lentils
- 1 large onion finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1 tsp dried mixed herbs
- 1 cup tomato puree
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp cinnamon powder
- ¼ tsp pepper powder
- 1 cup water or stock
- 1- 1¼ tsp salt
The Béchamel Sauce:
- 2 tbsp melted butter or oil
- 2 tbsp oats flour
- 1 cup milk hot
- ¼ tsp nutmeg powder
- ¼ tsp pepper powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 cup cheddar cheese grated
- Preparation of the Vegetables
- Peel the potatoes and parboil them. That means don't cook till done.
- Allow the potatoes to cool down.
- Slice them into ¼ inch roundels.
- Remove stalk of the eggplant and cut into roundels about ¼ inch in thickness.
- Add the eggplant slices in water till required.
- Heat a frying pan or griddle pan over medium heat.
- Add 1 tbsp olive oil. When it becomes hot arrange the potato slices in the pan.
- Allow the slices to roast or cook for 1-2 minutes or till they brown slightly.
- Turn over the slices, sprinkle some salt and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
- Keep on the side till required.
- Remove eggplant slices from the water. Pat them dry on a towel.
- Add 1 tbsp oil in the pan. Arrange the eggplant slices and allow them to cook till the slices brown a bit.
- Turn them over, sprinkle same salt and roast for 1-2 minutes.
- Take the pan off the heat.
Preparation of Lentil Tomato Sauce:
- Wash and soak lentils for 30 minutes in warm water. This will help the lentils to cook faster.
- Heat 2 tbsp oil in a saucepan over medium heat.
- Add chopped onion and stir fry till it becomes soft and slightly brown.
- Add chopped garlic. Stir fry for a few seconds.
- Add lentils, tomato puree, mixed herbs, water or stock and salt.
- Mix well, cover the pan and allow the lentils to simmer over medium to low heat till done.
- If required add a bit more stock or water.
- Take the lid off the pan. Add cinnamon, pepper powder and mix well. Make sure the lentils are done and the liquid has been absorbed. If not, cook till the liquid is absorbed.
Preparation of the Béchamel Sauce:
- Heat the milk in a saucepan till it becomes hot.
- In another pan add butter or oil and put it over low heat.
- Add the flour and keep stirring it till it turns light pink in colour and the mixture is all frothy and bubbly.
- Take the pan off the heat. Add milk slowly stirring the flour mixture all the time to avoid lumps.
- Put the pan back onto the heat. Keep stirring the mixture till it becomes thick and creamy.
- Take the pan off the heat and keep the sauce on the side till required.
Preparation of Vegetarian Moussaka
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Take a 8" X 8" deep baking tray. Lightly grease it with oil or butter.
- Divide the roasted potatoes and eggplants into 3 parts.
- Spread a bit of the lentil sauce at the bottom of the tray, a thin layer.
- Layer the first portion of vegetables in the prepared tray.
- Spread half of the lentil tomato sauce over the layer.
- Using the second portion, make a layer of the potato and eggplant slices over the sauce.
- Spread the remaining lentil tomato sauce over the vegetables.
- Layer the remaining potato and eggplant slices over the sauce.
- Evenly spread out the béchamel sauce over the vegetable layer.
- Sprinkle grated cheese over it.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes till the top is golden brown.
- Serve Vegetarian Moussaka with some salad.
- Along with eggplant and potato, can also add zucchini.
- Can replace the lentils with moong beans or chopped mushroom.
- Can omit cheese for a healthier moussaka.
- Instead of cheddar cheese can use feta, ricotta, goats cheese or mozzarella.
- If you used canned tomatoes, adjust the salt in the lentil tomato sauce accordingly.
- Use fresh herbs if you get some.
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