STAY IN RECIPE: MOUSSAKA

Moussaka is one of those dishes that’s a ball ache to make but it’s SO worth the effort. It’s like a lasagne but with slices of aubergine and potato instead of the pasta layers. (And a whole different raft of herbs and spices to give it a unique taste. Cinnamon and mint give this recipe a warming and slightly sweet taste and if you’re a reformed carnivore, the mint will evoke the distinct flavours associated with lamb.

This isn’t a quick fix. For this vegan moussaka, you need to set aside at least an hour of prep, 30 mins to cook and then it needs to rest before serving. Ideally, make it in advance and reheat it later, the next day even – the flavours really develop and the dish has time to settle. Freshly made from the oven it’s a little wet and doesn’t hold its shape too well. Still tastes bloody good though!!

You can be quite casual with the measurements for this dish, if you are serving more people and want a bigger amount then scale it up (or down if needed). The below serves 4, generously.

What you need:

  • 2 medium sized aubergines
  • At least 1 cup of olive oil (no need for extra virgin)
  • 1 small/medium pack of soy or other meat-free mince
  • 3 – 4 large potatoes
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 heaped tablespoons of tomato puree
  • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 small glass (125ml) of old red wine (vegan and reserved for cooking!)
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Dried or fresh mint
  • 2 – 3 bay leaves
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 2 sliced fresh tomatoes to decorate
  • 3/4 pint of soy or oat milk
  • 100g grated vegan cheese (I only use Violife and I know it works – take heed!)
  • 6 heaped teaspoons of cornflour
This is what it will look like when you serve it hot. You only get a clean cut slice when it’s cold! I took the top photo after I’d sliced it cold from the fridge. Food photography is bullshit, don’t let it dishearten you – it’s all about the taste!!!

What to do:

  • Start by peeling the potatoes and slicing thinly (but not too thin or they will fall apart too soon. Aim for about a third of a centimetre thick.)
  • Par boil them for 4 – 5 minutes, long enough so that they are still holding together, but they are starting to soften.
  • In the mean time, slice your aubergines length ways to the same thickness as the potato. You might find a serrated knife helps as the skin is quite tough!
  • With a pastry brush (actually here’s a tip – I use a decorating brush intended for walls! I have a special one reserved for cooking, they’re bigger and lose less bristles!), generously brush each side of the aubergine slices with olive oil.
  • Fry off the slices in a large, non stick pan on a high heat, so they brown, almost char, turning them over mid way. It will take 10 or so minutes just to do this, as you can’t fit many slices in the pan at once. As they’re done, put them to one side for using later.
  • Your potatoes should also be cooked, take them off the heat, drain and put them aside too.
  • Next is to make the ‘meat sauce’. Start by finely chopping and frying the onion in olive oil and once soft, add the vegan mince, crushed garlic cloves, tinned tomatoes and wine. Stir well and keep on a low heat.
  • While it’s simmering, add the cinnamon, bay leaves, mint and a good pinch or two of salt and then stir in the tomato puree. Leave it to simmer gently on a low heat, for 10 minutes.
  • At this point, pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees centigrade or gas mark 6.
  • Whilst the ‘meat sauce’ is still on the heat, add 3 teaspoons of dry cornflour and stir it in thoroughly. This will help to thicken the sauce and allow the servings of moussaka to hold better. (Essentially, it replaces the egg that’s normally used.)
  • Take it off the heat and remove the bay leaves so you can begin to assemble the dish with your aubergines and potatoes.
  • First of all spread a thin layer of the ‘meat sauce’ into the bottom of a medium sized oven dish. (The dish needs to be 2 – 3 inches deep at least.) Then create a layer of fried aubergines, another layer of ‘meat sauce’, then a later of potato slices and continue to alternate, finishing with a layer of aubergine on the top. You should have enough for 3 layers of each.
  • Once the layers are complete you can make the bechamel sauce to go on the top of the moussaka. Heat the soy or oat milk in a pan gently on a low heat, do NOT allow it to boil.
  • Once it’s beginning to steam, take it off the heat and stir in the grated cheese. It’s really important the milk isn’t boiling and is off the heat, otherwise the cheese will start to separate and you’ll end up with curdled sauce. Be patient and let the cheese melt gradually.
  • Mix 3 teaspoons of the cornflour into a cup with a few spoons of cold water until it’s just dissolved. The, return your sauce back to the heat and pour in the cornflour solution. Continue to mix thoroughly and it should start to thicken. If it needs to thicken more, you can make and add more cornflour solution. Once it’s the consistency of a smooth yoghurt, take it off the heat. At this point, I add a few pinches of salt until I think it tastes as close as possible to normal cheese sauce, which is generally quite salty.
  • Pour your cheese sauce evenly over the top of the moussaka and finish it off with some slices of fresh tomato and ground black pepper.
  • Put the moussaka on the middle shelf of the oven and cook it for 25 – 30 minutes until bubbling.
  • If you want to be really farty about things, you can sprinkle it with finely chopped fresh mint before serving. If you don’t think your guests will laugh at you, that is.

NB: It will be scaldingly hot when it comes out of the oven and uncomfortable to eat. It needs to rest for about 15 minutes. If you make it ahead, then cover once cool and store in the fridge, then reheat it in the oven until it’s piping hot again. Serve it with salad and crusty bread. It’s just DIVINE!