Well not really, and to be honest, in the normal 30oC+ August heat in Spain, this dish might be a little heavy. But Barcelona received a welcome thunderstorm during the night and another early morning shower so the temperature has dropped and the forecast is a very pleasant 26oC for the next few days. For the time of year, one could say it’s nearly cold! …nearly. So maybe a dish like Moussaka accompanied by a side salad of cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and red onion, and maybe a cheeky glass of Rosé, mightn’t be so bad during these refreshing days, it may hit the spot and.. even warm you up!
Although it’s believed to be a Greek dish, a recipe for Moussaka was found in an Arabic cookbook dated 1226 simply names “A book of dishes”, a title which was changed to “A Baghdad Cookery book” when it was finally translated to English in 1929. A recipe also appeared in the “Turkish Cookery Book”, published in 1865. The Greek twist seems to have been the fault of Nikos Tselementes, a France-educated Greek chef who is said to have modernized Greek cuisine and “cleansed” it off any Turkish influence. Hence why today the traditional moussaka has a béchamel sauce.
I must sound quite like the connoisseur of Eastern Europe and Middle Eastern cuisine, and you’d be right, I am! But I’m only joking! To be perfectly honest, I had never even heard of the dish until I was sat in the very popular Cornucopia restaurant in Dublin last year. A vegetarian and plant-based self-service restaurant set in a beautiful Georgian building with no less than 4 floors of seating and located in the middle of the city. Cornucopia means ‘a large number of different things’ and this is what they had to offer and it all looked delish. My friend suggested the moussaka, so I just went with that. And that’s when I fell in love with Moussaka. So I was delighted to find a recipe in a cookbook I use a lot but had never seen it, Fast Vegan book by Leon and so I quickly got to work once I got home to Spain.
There’s a fair amount of ingredients, and it takes time. But I think all great dishes do to an extent. Prep time will take you about 30-35 minutes and the total cook time will also depend on your oven, but cater for about 1hour 45 minutes in total, if not 2 hours. But the bonus apart from the taste is that you’ll get at least 6 meals out of it and you can freeze portions to have for another day. I very much recommend it. It’s a plant-based version, it’s also gluten-free, wheat-free, and soy-free. Healthy and natural. I hope you enjoy it!
For the vegetable sauce:
3 tbls olive oil (plus a lite extra for brushing)
2 onions, finely chopped.
2 carrots, finely diced.
2 sticks of celery, finely diced.
1 red pepper, finely diced.
8 cloves of garlic.
1 tsp ground cinnamon.
1 tbls of finely chopped (fresh) thyme.
1 tbls of finely chopped (fresh) oregano.
2 bay leaves (Personally I never use)
180g of finely chopped pitted black olives
65g of red lentils.
15oz pinto beans drained ( I use a full jar which is 400g)
80ml red wine
450g of tomato puree or sauce
4 medium-sized aubergines.
Salt & pepper.
For the white sauce:
1,225 ml of unsweetened almond milk
32g of olive oil
64g of flour or gluten-free (any flour will do, I prefer to use gluten-free, so I use chickpea or buckwheat)
2 tbsp of chickpea flour.
2 tsp garlic powder
A generous pinch of grated nutmeg
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
Salt and pepper.
1. To make the vegetable sauce:
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onions, garlic, carrots, celery, red bell pepper, and cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat until everything is lightly caramelized. Add the cinnamon, herbs, and olives and cook for another 2minutes. Add the lentils, beans, red wine and tomato puree or sauce, and water. Bring to a simmer for 30-45 minutes stirring occasionally until the lentils are cooked and the sauce has reduced by about half and is thick and rich.
2. To cook the aubergines:
While the above is simmering away. Firstly, season aubergine with salt and pepper and a little olive oil. You can now either grill them in a ridged pan if you have one or just grill them in the oven on grill mode for 5 minutes, either way, you may have to work in batches. Cook until very lightly charred on both sides.
3. For the sauce topping:
Heat the milk in a large saucepan over high heat until it bubbles, remove from the heat In another large saucepan, heat the oil, when hot, add the flours and reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly to form a paste, don’t allow it to burn. Add the garlic powder, then gradually add the milk, constantly whisking to form a thick sauce. Add the nutmeg, yeast, ½ tsp salt, and some pepper and stir until smooth.
4. Preheat the oven to 204oC (400oF)
5. To assemble:
Grab a large ovenproof dish, about 10×12 inches and 3.5 inches deep. Place a layer of aubergine on the bottom of the dish, then a layer of the vegetable sauce, then another layer of aubergine, then another layer of vegetable sauce. The final layer you have should be the aubergine. Then pour the sauce topping on top making sure it spreads over to the edges of the dish. Then Bake until the sauce is set and golden. Time may vary. The book says 30, I leave it in there for about 50 minutes at least.