Monday, March 10, 2008

Vegetarian Moussaka

After a wakeful night fending off the advances of affectionate cats at my parents' place, I drove home and did some cooking. When I'm pooped, I'm easily bored and get fretful, and what I really like to do is cook something that takes ages. Especially, something I can set, wander off from, come back to, leave to cool on the counter whenever I get bored -- you know, tackle in 5-minute bites. So while this looks like a pretty long and involved recipe, a lot of it you can put down and wander off from. This means it takes all day, but what else were you going to do?

I made vegetarian moussaka. Every time I make this I have to go through the same process (which, incidentally, is the process by which I learn nearly every new recipe in my narrow cranium):
  1. Google 'vegetarian moussaka eggplant'. Skim the results and select a few likely ones. Go back and change search terms to 'vegetarian moussaka eggplant recipe' and repeat.
  2. Read a few recipes. By 'read', of course, I mean 'skim briefly with a raised eyebrow, mentally adjusting the recipe to taste as I go'.
  3. Consider myself well-read on the recipe, that I know everything about making vegetarian moussaka, based on the fact that I've managed to spot a few common elements in each recipe.
  4. From this, cobble together my own recipe, adding elements as I see fit and as the pantry will allow.
(There's an optional step: 5. Fail miserably when it turns out I have skimmed over an essential element to the recipe, which I have disregarded as irrelevant or too fussy. Fortunately, this didn't happen with my moussaka.)

I should emphasise here and now that this dish is not strictly authentic. For a start, there's no meat in it. Secondly, the eggplant is mixed all through it instead of lining the bottom. Also, I'm not sure where the potatoes came from. But it's delicious, it's inspired by moussakka, and that's good enough for me. This is how I make vegetarian moussaka.

  • 1 eggplant
  • 2 small red capsicums
  • 1 brown onion
  • 1 minced garlic glove
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • 2/3 cup of dried red lentils
  • Two separate mixes of the following spices, adjusted to taste;
    • 2 tsp cayenne pepper
    • 3 tsp of cinnamon
    • 2 tsp of nutmeg
    • 2 tsp of cumin
    • 1 tsp of paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • About 3 cups of liquid vegetable stock (or amount according to proportions on the lentil packet)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Oil
  • Splash of balsamic vinegar
  • Dash of red wine (optional)
  • 4-5 clean potatoes
  • Cheese of choice
Halve the eggplant and the capsicums, and deseed the capsicums. Place them all face down on a tray and generously drizzle with oil. Roast at 180 degrees for about half an hour, or until the skins are all black and blistery. Cool briefly, then peel them all and put the flesh into a blender. Process just a little, until they're like a chunky salsa.

Meanwhile, put the lentils in a saucepan with the liquid stock and the spices (including the bay leaf) and simmer for however long it takes for the lentils to swell up. Drain, but reserve about half the liquid and mix a splash of red wine into it.

Finely chop the brown onion and saute in a splash of oil. When it's translucent, throw in some minced garlic and another round of spice mix. When it all gets aromatic and sizzley, deglaze with the lentil stock/red wine liquid. Throw in the drained lentils, the eggplant/capsicum mix, the balsamic vinegar and the salt and pepper to taste. Let it reach a rolling boil, then turn right down to simmer. If it's still too thick, mix a little cornflour into a spoonful of cold water, then mix that into the moussaka. When it's about the thickness you think would suit you, pour it into a greased loaf tin or baking tray.

Slice the potatoes into about 5mm thick slices. Boil them until tender. Drain and arrange over the top of the moussaka filling in the tray.

Optional Step
I like to put a bit of bechamel sauce over the dish, too, so here's a quick recipe for that one.

Melt a tablespoon of butter; mix a tablespoon of flour into it and stir to cook it into a roux. Pour a cup of milk, a little at a time, stirring constantly, into the pan. It will be absorbed, little by little, and make a thick, creamy sauce. Pour this over the moussaka.

Top with cheese and, if you like, breadcrumbs. Grill the whole thing for about 15-20 minutes, until browned and bubbly on top. Serve with a simple salad or vegetables.

And then, well, eat it. You don't need my help with that.

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