Moussaka is not particularly easy and certainly not quick. But it is delicious and definitely worth the effort. Originally a Greek/Middle Eastern dish, it is traditionally it is made with minced lamb and sliced potatoes but I have only ever had this vegetarian version which was a favourite in the veggie restaurant I worked in as a youth. Moussaka is all about aubergine and with red kidney beans standing in for the minced lamb you could almost fool a meat eater into thinking they weren’t eating animal.
I actually made this for Christmas dinner last year as I had vegetarian guests and I was too lazy to make two separate meals… and I am also not a fan of the turkey and ham palava. It is a little bit of an occasion meal because it does take a little more work than your average workaday dinner. The occasion this time was the visit of my lovely teenage niece from Brussels who has recently acquired a conscience and decided to no longer eat animals. Fair enough. Doesn’t bother me once she does eat properly which she assures me she does, though I am dubious about this. Anyway, she was coming for dinner with her young man so I decided to make an effort. Rose Elliot’s The Bean Book was a bit of a bible in the restaurant I worked in and this recipe is brazenly stolen from that.
- 1 large Aubergine or eggplant if there happens to be any North Americans reading
- 1 large onion peeled and chopped
- I large clove of garlic minced or chopped finely
- 2 tbsp oil
- 3 or 4 tomatoes skinned and chopped or a can will do the trick
- 1 tbsp tomato puree
- Black pepper
- Half a teaspoon of cinnamon
- A glug of red wine
- A can of red kidney beans drained and rinsed
White or Bechamel Sauce
- 25 g butter
- 25 g plain flour
- 400 ml milk
- 1 Egg
- 100 g grated cheddar cheese to top everything off
While this is not a challenging meal to make there are a few steps so let’s crack on.
Slice the aubergine into thin rounds and sprinkle liberally with salt. The salt draws out the bitter juices that you sometimes get when the aubergine is not freshly harvested. As ever in the modern culinary world there is some debate about the effectiveness of salting and blah blah blah, but I have always salted aubergines so I’ll just carry on doing what I do. After 20 or 30 minutes you can rinse the salt off and dry them on a clean kitchen towel or just use kitchen paper.
In the meantime heat the oven up to 180℃ and start on your beany tomato-y sauce.
Gently fry the onion and garlic in a middling-sized saucepan until they are soft but not browned. Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, cinnamon, wine and a healthy grinding of black pepper. If you have never skinned a tomato, it’s a little fiddly but not difficult so don’t worry. All you need to do is put your tomatoes in a deep bowl and cover them with boiling water straight from the kettle. Leave them to sit for ten minutes or so and the skin will slide off fairly easily. Canned tomatoes would do but this really deserves the little extra effort and you will taste the difference. Back in the veggie restaurant I worked in there was a comment book we foolishly left out for our customers and one of the comments was ‘Canned tomatoes, yuk!.’ A bit strong I thought and I can’t remember which dish the comment was aimed at but you take my point.
Anyway, let the sauce simmer away for 5 minutes or so and then add the red kidney beans. Mix them in and mash them slightly as you go, this helps with the not-actually-meat-but-you-won’t-miss-it ruse. Add some salt to taste and more pepper if you wish. Leave it to simmer gently while you get on with your white sauce.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the flour and stir in to cook it for a minute or so. Add a glug of the milk and whisk thoroughly to get rid of any lumps, keep adding glugs of milk and whisking until all the milk is gone and you hopefully have a nice smooth sauce. If it seems too thin just leave it simmer to reduce down a little and if it has become too thick, add more milk. Season with a little salt and pepper and perhaps some nutmeg to add another layer of flavour. Let the sauce simmer very gently for ten minutes or so and remember to stir occasionally to prevent it from becoming lumpy. Take the sauce off the heat and let it cool a little, beat an egg and whisk this into the sauce.
Grease a shallow casserole dish and arrange half the aubergine slices on the bottom, spread half the bean mix over the aubergine then half the white sauce. Repeat the aubergine, bean mix, white sauce layers until it’s all gone. It’s very similar to making a lasagne really, but with aubergine slices instead of pasta sheets. Depending on how much sauce you made and how big your dish is you may only get two layers or you may get four. It really doesn’t matter. Sprinkle the cheese all over the top and bake in the oven for about an hour.
Serve it with some green veg or a salad perhaps. We just had ours with garlic bread which was perfectly fine and would stretch it out if you are feeding more than 4.
My niece and I were very happy… her fella…. not so much!