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Mmmm… moussaka


CROWD PLEASER  Vegetarian moussaka makes for a great dinner or a Sunday lunch to share with friends.


Redmond Cabot

It was one of the worst nights of winter. Hail battered the windows, keeping me awake in my bed. A rumble – thunder? Nope. My tummy.
Have you ever had one of those nights when you lie in bed feeling peckish but are too tired to get up and do anything about it? Outside, the wind whistled and the windows rattled. More rumbling. My mind turned to food.
What would be the ultimate comfort food to cancel out the worst of the winter? Macaroni cheese? A deeply savoury winter minestrone packed with root vegetables and pasta? I finally settled on moussaka.

A (worthwhile) Herculean task
Moussaka, a layered, baked dish of aubergine, minced lamb or veal, potato, rich tomato sauce and creamy béchamel sauce is very much associated with Greece. But the dish, and its variations, can be found across the Middle East, the Balkans and Mediterranean countries like Turkey. The meat version is unctuous and delicious – but so is the vegetarian take, which I’m going to go for.
The only problem with making a moussaka – while simple and cheap – is that it’s time-consuming affair. The upside is that one tray of moussaka will usually stretch to two meals, and it tastes even better on the second day.
Regarding the aubergines – to salt or not to salt? I would say yes. If you sprinkle your sliced aubergines with salt and leave them for half an hour before rinsing them well, they will be less likely to have a greasy texture.
This vegetarian moussaka makes for a great dinner or a Sunday lunch dish to share with friends. Serve with a green salad and crusty bread.

Mighty veggie moussaka
What you need

  • 2 small aubergines
  • 1 medium onion (finely chopped)
  • 4 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
  • 1 large potato
  • 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 200g red lentils
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • Half tsp of dried oregano
  • Pinch of dried cinnamon
  • Seasoning

Béchamel sauce and topping

  • 45g butter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 400ml milk
  • 1 large tomato (sliced)
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • Seasoning

What you do
Slice the aubergines into thin rounds. Sprinkle with sea salt and leave for half and hour. Wash and pat dry with kitchen paper.
Drizzle some oil into a pan and fry the aubergine slices in batches for a few minutes on each side until golden. Drain the excess oil on kitchen paper.
Heat a good glug of oil in a saucepan and sauté the onion and garlic until soft. Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato purée, red lentils, veg stock, parsley, oregano, the pinch of cinnamon, and salt and pepper. Combine well and simmer for around 15-20 minutes, stirring regularly until the lentils are soft.
If you cut the potato into very thin slices using a mandolin, you won’t need to pre-cook them. For thicker potato slices, parboil for five minutes and drain well.
Assemble the ingredients in a large baking dish (around 30cm x 18cm). Lay half the aubergine slices on the bottom. Place the lentil mix on top, then a layer of potatoes, then the rest of the aubergine slices.
For the béchamel sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the flour and mix to a roux paste. Cook for a minute or two on a low heat. Gradually add the milk, stirring all the while until the sauce is smooth. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Pour the sauce over the dish.
Decorate the top with thinly sliced tomato. Bake at 180c for about an hour or until the potato is cooked. After 20-30 minutes in the oven, cover with tin foil so the top doesn’t burn.
Leave to stand for ten minutes before serving.

Red Cabot is interested in food, nature and small things. He sells his food at Westport Country Markets in St Anne’s Boxing Club, James’s Street car park, Westport, every Thursday, from 8am to 1pm.