Vegetable “moussaka”

The word “Moussaka” is probably misleading here because this dish is a product of Britain in the early 1970s when aubergines and even courgettes were exotic veg.  (What a waste, when it could have been a proper marrow?) I first ate lamb moussaka at the home of my tutor, as cooked for us by his wife*.  It was delicious.

Soon, it seemed important to exchange meat for lentils. Now I prefer the vegetarian version.  But is fiddly and takes a few hours. So relax, light a jos stick and put on the Incredible String Band.

  • Ingredients: a small aubergine, a courgette, a medium potato, an onion,
  • For the ragù: 400ml sugo (see recipe), 150g Puy lentils, crushed garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, a handful of fresh oregano or marjoram leaves, a couple of sage leaves, a bay leaf.
  • For the Bechamel: 2 small eggs, 1-2 handfuls of grated cheese, 1 Tbsp plain flour, milk and or cream.
  • Method:  Wash the lentils thoroughly while looking out for stones. Put them on to boil until al dente – this time varies between lentils.
  • Using a wide, heavy pan on a medium heat, sauté slices of aubergine in approximately 1Tbsp olive oil.  When they are browned but still firm take them out and drain. Repeat this process with slices of courgette, adding more oil if necessary. Finally, add the sliced potatoes to the same pan with a little water and steam them until almost cooked. Drain off any excess liquid.

Sauté sliced onion, finely chopped herbs and crushed garlic in another pan with more oil. When they have all softened, add the drained lentils. Stir around together, then spoon in enough sugo to coat all the lentils plus a bit more. Simmer all together for at least 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper (taste it).

In a third pan make a bechamel sauce with 1Tbsp of flour, a tsp of butter and enough milk to create a cream like consistency.  Add a bay leaf. Gently heat and stir until the flour thickens the liquid, ending up like custard.  Season with salt and pepper and let it cool.  Take out the bay leaf. Separate the eggs and mix the yolks with the grated cheese.  A combination of parmesan, and comté is good but most hardish cheeses will be fine too. Stir the eggs and cheese into the cool bechamel. Whip the egg whites in a bowl and fold into the sauce.

  • Assembly:  Leave the potato slices where they are in the bottom of the pan. Cover with alternating layers of lentil sauce and vegetable slices. Top with the cheese custard. Sprinkle on any remaining cheese and herbs. 

Cook in a medium oven for about 35 minutes – until the top is brown and set.  

* Carolyn Riseborough, mother of Ed Balls, who has just won Celebrity Best Home Cook using his mother’s recipes (Editor’s note March 2021)

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