Monday, May 30, 2011

Vegan Moussaka

Puy lentils are wonderful and I particularly like them as an alternative to minced meat in dishes such as lasagne, shepherds pie, chili and moussaka. They hold their shape on cooking and absorb the flavour of the sauce that they are cooked in which make them perfect for these baked recipes. This is my lighter on the calories version of the classic moussaka dish. By using lentils, not frying the aubergine and using a yogurt topping with no cheese you can save some calories and enjoy a fibre and vitamin rich meal. Saving enough spare calories for dessert, maybe?

There are many different versions of this classic dish from ones that only use eggplant/aubergine, to only using potatoes in the layering. The top can be different too with some using a B├ęchamel sauce and others an egg enriched savory custard. This version is close to one I ate in Dubrovnik, Croatia during a wonderful holiday a few years back and has both eggplant and potato and the topping is a egg and yogurt mix. The great news for vegans is that soy yogurt works just as well and can be thickened with cornflour instead of egg. I prefer the yogurt topping as it makes it lighter and the tang of the yogurt cuts through the richness of the tomato sauce. If you can eat cheese then a handful of grated cheese on the top works well although I never bother. If you need this dish to be gluten free then make sure the yogurt is gluten free as wheat can be used as a stabiliser in some low fat or dairy alternative yogurts.

Vegetarian Moussaka (Serves 4 when served with a side salad)
Vegan, vegetarian, dairy free, gluten free

For the filling:
400g Aubergine/eggplant
200g Potato (a waxy variety is best so it doesn't fall apart)
165g Dried puy lentils (I like Merchant Gourmet brand) or black beluga lentils
2" Strip kombu (optional- cooking your beans with this seaweed makes them more digestible)
1 Onion, finely sliced
1tsp Crushed garlic
1 Can chopped tomatoes
1 Small red bell pepper (about 80g), chopped into small pieces
1 Gluten free stock cube
1tbs Tomato paste/puree
1/2tsp sugar
1tsp Ground cinnamon
1tbs Fresh oregano, roughly chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
For the topping:
400g Pot of plain yogurt or dairy free/vegan yogurt e.g soy yogurt
1 Egg beaten or for vegan 2tbs cornflour
Black pepper
1tbs Fresh mint leaves, finely chopped (optional) or handful of grated cheese (optional)

  • Set a large pan of water to boil on the hob and once it has reached boiling point add the lentils and kombu and allow to simmer until tender. For me this was approximately 30 mins. You want the beans to be cooked through, so no hard bits in the centre but not overcooked as the individual lentils will start to break up slightly.Once cooked, remove the piece of kombu and drain and set aside.
  • The potato and aubergine should be cooked before assembling. I like to thinly slice the potatoes and then par boil them in some lightly salted water over a high heat for a few minutes. For the aubergine My preferred method is to lightly brush the slices with olive oil and then lay them in a microwaveable dish and heat them on high for 5mins. This softens them and releases some of the water they contain which can be drained away before assembly. Alternatively you can fry the aubergine slices but this will use more oil as they soak up the oil like a sponge. 
  • To make the lentil filling add the remaining olive oil to a pan and fry the garlic, onions and red pepper until starting to brown. Add the lentils and can of chopped tomatoes and stir. Add  the stock cube, tomato paste and cinnamon and allow to simmer fro 5-10 mins, adding more water if the mixture starts to stick. Next add the oregano and season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for a few minutes. 
  • In the meantime, make the topping by mixing all the topping  ingredients you want to use in a small bowl. 
  • Preheat the oven to 180degrees C/gas mark 4/350F.
  • To assemble, lightly oil the bottom of an oven proof dish (mine was approximately 25cm x 20cm x 8cm). Layer half of the aubergine slices on the bottom. Pour over the lentil mixture, top with the remaining aubergine slices followed by the potato and finally top with the yogurt topping mixture and smooth down. Place in the oven and cook for around 40 minutes by which time the topping should have set and the mixture should be bubbling at the sides.Serve hot with a side salad.

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