Vegetarian Moussaka

Moussaka. Perhaps the most delicious dish ever. Layers of veggies and hearty sauce, all topped with a rich and deliciously creamy layer of béchamel. What more do you need?

I remember the first time I tried moussaka– and how I loved that creamy topping but could not put my finger on what it was! Was it mashed potatoes? Cheese sauce? What WAS it?

The answer, of course, is béchamel sauce made more rich with the addition  of egg yolks. Y.U.M.

Sadly, since moving from the city, I have been unsuccessful in my hunt for moussaka close to home. So I decided to prepare it myself! Why hadn’t I thought of this sooner? Making it myself meant I could tweak the traditional ingredients to best suit my desires- cue the lentils! Instead of the traditional beef or lamb, I opted for lentils. Loaded with fibre and protein- and straight out of the can- easy peasy! I also kept things simpler by just using eggplant. Feel free to add zucchini (prepared similarly to the eggplant), or the traditional potato slices (par boiled) as well. More cheese (perhaps parmesan) is also a welcomed addition if you so desire (I didn’t have any!).

I will say that preparing this dish took a fair chunk of time- but enjoy it! Pour yourself a glass of red wine and savour the process. Cooking delicious, nourishing food in your kitchen can be a wonderful joy.

One day – mark my words – I WILL enjoy moussaka in Greece. Until that day….

2 large eggplant, sliced into 1/2- inch rounds
1/2 cup feta, crumbled

For the tomato-lentil sauce:
1 yellow onion, diced
1 cup carrots, diced
1 cup celery, diced
3 cups mushrooms, diced (I used cremini- one 227g container does the job)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup red wine
1-28oz can no salt added diced tomatoes
1-5.5oz can tomato paste
1-19oz can lentils, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the béchamel sauce:
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup flour
3 cups milk*
3 egg yolks
Salt and pepper, to taste

1) Preheat oven to 425F. Sprinkle sliced eggplant with salt, then lay out in a single layer on paper towel for 30 minutes. This helps to remove excess moisture from the eggplant. Pat dry, giving the slices a little squeeze, then place in a single layer on a lined baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a pinch of oregano. Bake in oven for 25-30 minutes, flipping halfway through. Remove and set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 350F.

2) While eggplant is roasting, prepare the sauce. In a large pot, heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots and celery, and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue cooking until their juices have released and evaporated. Add the garlic, oregano and cinnamon, and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes. Turn up the heat and add the red wine, allowing the alcohol to boil away for about 10 minutes (this cooks out the taste of the alcohol). Turn the heat back to medium, add the tomatoes and lentils, and continue cooking for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3) Prepare the béchamel. In a medium pot, heat butter over medium heat until melted. Add flour and whisk together, cooking for another 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in milk, a little at a time, whisking constantly, until all milk has been added and sauce thickens (this often requires that the mixture comes to a boil). Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly (don’t add the egg yolks just yet).

4) Lightly oil a 9×13” baking dish (I use paper towel to do this). Place a single layer of roasted eggplant (about half) in the bottom of the dish, then top with half of the sauce. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup feta cheese. Repeat with another layer of eggplant, the rest of the sauce and feta.

5) Now that the béchamel has cooled slightly, add the egg yolks, one at a time, stirring constantly until blended. Pour béchamel mixture evenly over top.

6) Bake in oven for ~45-50 minutes. If top has not browned sufficiently, turn oven onto broil (and watch closely!) until browned and bubbly.

7) Let dish cool for about 20-30 minutes before slicing (this is tough- trust me!).

*Note: I made the béchamel with regular cow’s milk. I’m not sure how this would work with almond milk or soy milk, etc. From what I’ve read online, it doesn’t seem like the simplest swap!