If I were more organized, I would have posted this before the merry holiday. But how was I to know this moussaka would turn out to be one of the best things I’ve ever cooked?
This Christmas, my mom and I were tasked with bringing the vegetarian main course to the family holiday feast. After a few considerations – veggie chili, stuffed peppers, shephard’s pie – we eventually settled on Delia Smith’s recipe for Moussaka, which sounded special enough for Christmas, convenient enough to serve a crowd, and hearty enough to qualify as a main course.
Moussaka seems simple enough. On the outset it looks simply like lentils, eggplant, tomatoes and red pepper, topped with custard and baked until tasty. But there much more to it than that – each of the vegetables get cooked individually, then wine and cinnamon are added, which may sound like a strange combination, but the way the flavors evolve in the oven is nothing short of magical. It’s a bit time consuming (set aside 3 hours from start to finish), but worth every step.
Vegetarian Moussaka with Ricotta Topping
2 eggplant, each 8 oz (225 g)
10 fl oz (275 ml) vegetable stock
2 oz (50 g) Puy lentils
2 oz (50 g) green lentils
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 large red pepper, de-seeded and chopped into ¼ inch (5 mm) dice
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 x 14 oz (400 g) tin chopped tomatoes, drained
7 fl oz (200 ml) red wine
2 level tablespoons tomato paste
1 level teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 level tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
salt and freshly milled black pepper
For the topping:
1 x 9 oz (250 g) tub ricotta
10 fl oz (275 ml) milk
1 oz (25 g) plain flour
1 oz (25 g) butter
a pinch of nutmeg
1 large egg
1 oz (25 g) Parmesan, freshly grated
salt and freshly milled black pepper
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4, 350°F (180°C).
You will also need a shallow dish about 9 x 9 x 2½ inches (23 x 23 x 6 cm) deep.
- Prepare the eggplant: cut them into 1/2 inch (1 cm) squares leaving the skins on. Place them in a colander, sprinkle and toss with salt, then put a small plate with a heavy weight on top – this will draw out any excess juices.
- Meanwhile, pour the stock into a saucepan together with the Puy lentils (but no salt), cover and simmer for 15 minutes before adding the green lentils. Cover again and cook for a further 15 minutes, by which time most of the liquid will have been absorbed and the lentils will be soft.
- While the lentils are cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large solid frying pan and fry the onions until they’re soft and tinged brown at the edges (about 5 minutes), then add the chopped pepper and soften and brown that too for about another 4 minutes. Next add the garlic, cook for 1 minute more, then transfer the whole lot to a plate.
- Next transfer the eggplant to a clean cloth and squeeze them dry, then add a further 2 tablespoons of oil to the frying pan, turn the heat up to high and toss the eggplant in it so they get evenly cooked. When they’re starting to brown a little, add the drained tomatoes and the onion and pepper mixture to the pan.
- In a bowl mix the wine, tomato paste and cinnamon together, then pour it over the vegetables. Add the lentils and the chopped parsley, season well and let everything simmer gently while you make the topping.
- To make the topping, place the milk, flour, butter and nutmeg in a saucepan and whisk until it simmers and becomes a smooth glossy sauce. Season with salt and pepper, remove from the heat and let it cool a little before whisking in the ricotta and the beaten egg.
- Finally, transfer the vegetable and lentil mixture to the dish and spoon the cheese sauce over the top, using the back of a spoon to take it right up to the edges. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and transfer the dish to the pre-heated oven and bake on the middle shelf for 1 hour. Then allow the moussaka to rest for 15 minutes before serving.