Last night, I made a vegetarian moussaka. Moussaka is a layered Greek dish featuring eggplant, ground lamb, tomatoes and a béchamel (cream) sauce. I make a vegetarian version, adding squash and mushrooms to the eggplant layer, and replacing the ground lamb with lentils. It takes some time to put this together, but it makes for an impressive and delicious dish! It’s a great vegetarian main-option. I actually made it for Thanksgiving this past year.
There are a lot of steps to making this dish, but there is a lot that can be done simultaneously. I begin by salting the eggplant, then getting the tomatoes and lentils started. And then as the eggplant roasts, I sauté the other vegetables. I make the béchamel sauce last.
- Olive oil
- Salt (I use coarse ground sea salt)
- 2 medium sized eggplants, sliced
- 1 yellow squash, sliced
- 1 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
- 15 ounces crushed tomato
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 1 pound dried lentils
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground all spice
- 1 whole nutmeg, ground (or 2-3 teaspoons ground nutmeg)
- 1 small bunch fresh dill, chopped
- 2 cups milk
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 whole clove
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 ounces crumbled feta, divided
For the veggies:
Preheat the oven to 450. Slice the eggplant, sprinkle salt over it, and allow it to sit for 20-30 minutes, then wipe dry. This draws the moisture out of the eggplant, eliminating its sometimes bitter taste, and also giving it a firmer texture, so that it doesn’t fall apart in the casserole. Because I use salt in this step, I didn’t feel (or taste) a need to use more in the sauce. Place the sliced eggplant in a single layer on a baking tray, and then mist or brush them with olive oil. (I like misting because then you end up using less oil.) Turn the slices over and mist/ brush the other sides. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until they are beginning to brown, and then flip over and bake for an additional 3-5 minutes. Set aside until they are ready to use, and lower the temperature of the oven to 350.
Lightly coat a large skillet with olive oil and place on medium heat. When the oil has heated, add squash, and raise the heat. Cover. Cook until softened, and browned on one side. Set the squash aside in a separate container.
Using the same skillet, add additional oil if needed (but it should be pretty greased up). Add the mushrooms, and a couple tablespoons of vegetable broth and cover. Cook over medium heat until mushrooms are tender. Discard the liquid (or, put it in your tomato sauce if it needs more liquid) and set aside.
For the tomato-lentil sauce
Lightly coat a large saucepan with olive oil and place on medium heat. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds to one minute, just before the garlic begins to brown. Add the tomatoes, red wine and broth and stir. Bring to a boil and add the lentils. Stir in the oregano, cinnamon, all spice and half the nutmeg. Cover and cook for 15-25 minutes, or until lentils are tender but not mushy, stirring occasionally, and adding additional broth or water if necessary.
For the béchamel sauce:
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light golden brown, about 5-7 minutes.
In a separate pan, heat the milk until it’s just about to boil. Add the milk to the butter mixture 1/2 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth. Add bay leaf and clove. Bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat. Remove the bay leaf and clove. On low heat, stir in the feta until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Grate half the nutmeg into the sauce, stir in some of the fresh chopped dill and set aside until ready to use.
Now comes assembly. In a large casserole dish (or two small ones, which is what I have) place a layer of eggplant, squash and mushrooms. Cover with tomato-lentil sauce and repeat for a second layer. Pour béchamel sauce of the top, and sprinkle additional feta and dill on top. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Let cool for 5-10 minutes. Cut, and serve. Garnish with additional fresh dill if desired.