Moussaka is traditionally a Greek layered dish made of minced meat, eggplants, tomatoes potatoes with a thick béchamel sauce on top. I replaced the minced meat with lentils which tastes delicious and is a much healthier alternative, so much so that I actually had to double check I didn't accidentally put meat into it when I was serving it. The béchamel sauce is made from a mix of soft goat cheese and hard sheep cheese giving it just the right texture to match the rich vegetable layers.
I can't have any cow's milk, but I can handle goat and sheep and I do take goat whey protein when I'm low in energy. Even a sip of cow's milk will make my throat close up, however I can have the goat and I'm fine, so it's a good alternative. Nick loves it and we're lucky the local markets have many different varieties, the Herdsman Fresh around the corner is one of the best sources of both.
This is one of Nick's favourite dishes and the dog is always happy as she gets scraps of the cheese, so every time I make this it's one happy household!
Vegetarian Moussaka with a Cheese Béchamel Sauce
1 can lentils
1 can chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup red grape juice
2 TBS olive oil
2 TBS tomato paste
2 bay leaf
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp celtic sea salt
pepper to taste
3 TBS vegan butter
1 cup chopped goat feta
1 cup chopped sheep hard cheese
(I used manchego)
pinch of nutmeg
1. Preheat the oven to 220˚C
2. Cut the eggplant into 1/4 inch thick slices, 'sweat' the eggplant by soaking it in salt water for about 20 mins as this helps to remove any bitterness in the skin. Put about 2 tsp of salt into the water and then make sure that the eggplant is covered well. You can always skip this step, sometimes when I'm in a hurry I do it and the taste is still fine
3. In the meantime start on the lentil layer. Dice the onion and the zucchini. Make sure you spoon out the middle part of the zucchini, the seed part doesn't have much taste and it also makes the mixture very watery
4. In a large pot, heat up the olive oil and add in the onions and garlic, sauté until slightly browned and translucent. Add in the tomato paste, oregano, salt, pepper and cinnamon as you go to infuse the flavours
5. Drain and rinse the lentils, combine into the pot with the chopped tomatoes, bay leaves and grape juice. Sometimes I'll use non alcoholic sparking red grape juice as a substitute, both are fine. Bring to boil, then lower the heat to a simmer, stir occasionally for 30 mins. For the last 10 mins remove the lid and simmer as this will help mixture dry out a bit. If it's too watery the consistency when baked won't be as nice
6. After your lower the heat, it should be time to take the eggplant out of the water. Line up the oven trays with foil or baking paper. Brush or spray a light layer of olive oil and some grounded black pepper, and spread the eggplant over two trays. Put into the oven for 10 mins, then flip over and broil for another 10 mins. Remember to stir the lentil mixture occasionally in the meantime to prevent it from burning
7. Whilst the eggplant is in the oven and the lentil dish is on simmer, start on the béchamel sauce. It takes a while for the hard cheese to soften, as you do it over a low heat. First melt the vegan butter, I went to the local IGA and picked up some coconut based butter which was delicious. Add the two kinds of cheese and put onto a low heat, stir occasionally with a wooden spoon. It should take 20-30 mins for it to mix together
8. Once the lentil layer is done and the eggplant is out of the oven start the layering process. Line up a large square pan with baking paper, put down the first layer of eggplant. There's two layers of eggplant so use half of what you have. Overlap them so that there is a solid base for the lentils to go on
9. Add in half the lentil mixture and spread evenly, then layer with the remaining eggplant slices. Spread the remaining lentil mixture over this and push down lightly so it's packed in
10. The cheese layer should be done by now. Gently spoon the sauce over the last lentil layer. Cover the top with foil paper and put into the oven for 45 mins. This prevents the cheese from burning. During the last 5 mins I usually remove the foil and just let the heat brown the top of the cheese mixture
11. Take out, leave to cool for around 10 - 15 mins, this allows the cheese sauce to harden slightly, then sprinkle with pepper and fresh parsley to serve!