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Guest spot. Best vegetarian recipes : Emma Bennett’s Vegetarian Moussaka recipe

Emma's vegetarian moussaka

Last week I ate three excellent vegetarian meals. Danny ate two – he was stuck coming back from Wales and made do with a burger. My trusty Alpha Carnivore mentioned his meal in passing.
“It was an Aberdeen Angus burger but it was tiny. I didn’t want a burger and envied you.”

I was polishing off the final (large portion) of Emma’s Vegetarian Moussaka. Unbelievably good. With Danny away I could have seconds too.

I decided to start cooking this meal on Sunday evening and prepared the lentils and aubergine. I made the lentil mixture for 6 (half in the freezer) and halved the quantities for the aubergine. On Monday morning I assembled these and in the evening only had to make the topping and pop it in the oven. Easy peasy and no pinched face opening the kitchen door at 9.45 pm to find out if we’d possibly be eating before midnight.

Danny usually cooks on Sunday evening and the lentil mixture bubbled on the stove as he stirred his sauce. It did look a bit hearty and lentily and altogether unappealing. I had a teeny taste under D’s beady eye. It tasted wonderful! Danny took a nibble and roared with relief.

The final combination was superb. Try this – even a man eating Yeti would probably enjoy this.

Emma Bennett’s Vegetarian Moussaka recipe

This serves about six and is based on Jane Grigson’s recipe from her Vegetable Book.

Ingredients:

  • 1-1.5 kg sliced aubergines
  • Lentil sauce:
    1 onion
    1-2 cloves garlic
    50 g red lentils
    25 g Puy lentils/green lentils
    Hot water or veg stock (we used chicken stock)
    250g brown lentils (This flummoxed me. I found some small brown Italian lentils and then lost my nerve. I bought a smart box of Merchany Gourmet Pardina lentils and discovered that they looked the same as the cheaper pack)
    1 tin chopped tomatoes
    1/2 tsp dried oregano or marjoram
    Black pepper
    Cayenne pepper ( I didn’t have this so used half a teaspoon of sweet smoked paprika)
    0.5 tsp cinnamon, if liked (or use a broken cinnamon stick)
    1 glass red wine
    pinch of sugar
    70g grated feta
    2 tbsp grated parmesan
    1-2 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs
  • Cheese sauce:
    1 pt thick bechamel sauce
    2 large eggs
    70 g feta
    additional cheese for topping (I used Parmesan)

Method:

  1. Fry half of the aubergine slices in oil, and blanch the other half
    In boiling water until just tender. Drain and leave to cool.
  2. Sweat the onion and garlic in a little butter until softened (about 10 mins).
  3. Add the dried lentils and the stock; the stock should cover the lentils (you may need to adjust the amount). Add the cinnamon, a pinch of sugar,the wine,herbs and tomatoes. Simmer the lentils until tender – the stock should be well absorbed but the lentils should not be dry, so add more stock during cooking if required. Add black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste.
  4. Add the cheeses and the bread crumbs. You might not need all of the breadcrumbs if the lentil mixture is fairly dry. Mix well.
  5. Make the bechamel sauce and allow it to cool slightly (you don’t want the eggs to scramble on contact). Beat the eggs and add them, whisking well, followed by the cheese. The sauce should be a custardy-yellow colour.
  6. Assemble the moussaka:
    Use a large (c. 26 cm) casserole – grease it well with butter. Starting and finishing with aubergine slices, layer the lentil mixture in the casserole – I usually do three layers. Put all of the sauce on top, followed by a grating of cheese. Bake at 150c (fan assisted, 170c reguar oven) for about 40 mins, until bubbling (this will take longer if you’re assembling pre-cooked, cold components) – you may find that you need to give it about 10 mins under the grill to brown the top at the end.

Emma adds – as an alternative, you can use potato or courgette slices instead of aubergine – both are authentic.


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13 Comments

  1. Hi Fiona, this sounds good …I particularly like the idea of mixing different types of lentils, because you’d get different textures. Me, I just reach for the one jar (generally Puy lentils, or red for soup). One of my difficulties with veggie food is that it often relies on loads of cheese and other high-cholesterol treats … but we can work on that ;)

    Thanks – I think I’m going to join you in the eat-more-veggie-dishes next year

    Joanna

  2. Completely agree about veggie moussaka — it’s excellent! When I make it, I usually make two large dishes and freeze one of them assembled but not cooked– makes a good instant meal.

    This is very, very similar to Delia’s recipe; I think she must have been -ahem- “inspired” by Jane :-) I also use two types of lentils: Puy lentils and some larger flat pale brown ones called “lentilles blondes” in French. And following Delia’s recipe I put curd cheese in the bechamel instead of the feta. I can see feta would be good though :-)

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Joanna,

    The different sizes of lentils make the texture great. I don’t eat a lot but went back for seconds of this as it was tasty and gorgeous.

    I’m pretty sure that you can buy a low fat feta.

    Hi Veronica,

    I’m sure that most chefs are inspired by each other!

    The feta worked really well in the lentil mixture and topping adding a real tang.

    Good idea to make 2 and freeze 1 as it was a bit of a palaver to make.

  4. Kia ora,
    Tinned lentils are really good for vego recipes,(can be substituted by any type of tinned beans)
    I think it is an affectation to worry about simmering etc from dried!!
    With so many in our family (vegos that is) we have quite a repetoire of vegetarian recipes!
    Can’t see why people make such a fuss about catering for vegetarians, commonsense is the key, and I have found that anythng filling and nutritious is very acceptable.

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Cherry

    Thanks for the tip on tinned lentils/beans. Although dry lentils simmered in stock taste great and the ones in the lentil curry that we tried that were simmered in coconut and water were wonderful.

    Catering for vegetarians always throws me a bit. I want their food to be really good and this takes a bit more experience than I have at present. I am enjoying the challenge of giving Danny vegetarian food as he is the ultimate Alpha carnivore and eats far too much meat. He is enjoying the experiment so far!

  6. Hi again,
    I guess I am lucky, because my Mum has been an advocate of vegetarianism from way back, so my sister and I picked up lots of hints along the way.
    Also my ex sister in law, and the present one are both amazing vego cooks.
    I have an NZ recipe book called the Harvest Wholefoods Collection, sadly now out of print, which I use a lot. It contains recipes ranging from Cherry chutney! to Spinach Tofu loaf, to Tropical Chickpea Curry….
    I will photocopy and post you a selection in the new year.

  7. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Cherry

    That would be wonderful. Thank you so much.

  8. I tried this out last night. It’s gorgeous! Like your OH, my OH is a raging carnivore, loves his meat, and although he’s not one to refuse veggie meals (as long as its well cooked, he’s cool with just about anything), i think given a choice between a meat meal and a veggie meal he’d go for the meat meal every time (assuming they were equally well cooked, that is).

    I did have to whack the oven up at the end – after 40 minutes in at 150*C (gas mark 2) the cheese ontop had melted but not bubbled, so i turned the oven up to gas mark 5/6 for 15 minutes and that did the trick. Definetly making this one again (although there’s half left in the fridge for dinner on sunday!!).

    thanks!!

    keth
    xx

  9. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Keth

    We’ve had it 4 times already! I tried using the Sainsbury’s salad feta and it wasn’t nearly so good. If I use 1.5 kilos of aubergines and double the topping it feeds 8 with a starter.

    Thanks for dropping by.

  10. I often use the flat, slate browny green lentils as a change from puy lentils, tesco call them “continental lentils” which I just adore…

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