Eggplant and Lentil Moussaka
Melbourne is home to the second largest Greek population in the world! And I live right on the periphery of the its Greek Precinct, which houses at least a half a dozen of the city's best Greek restaurants.
I suppose this gives me sufficient claim to making this awesome Greek dish in its most authentic or most delectable /best avatar. Since I prefer the latter, I have added some spices like cumin and coriander which are not alien to the Greeks and which go beautifully with the lentil and tomato combination.
I should also warn you, my readers, that I make this dish only when I have plenty of time and a pair of helping hands.
The Greeks should vindicate themselves by asking anyone who stereotypes them as "lazy" to make a good moussaka!
Come and see why!
1 large eggplant
2 large potatoes
1 small green pepper, diced
1 large onion, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
A handful of kale leaves (you can use spinach or swiss chard as well) trimmed and cut crosswise into ribbons
2 cups red lentils (whole masoor) soaked overnight (mine actually sprouted as it was a hot day!
A handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 six inch stalk of celery, sliced
100 gms creamy feta cheese (low salt) crumbled
1 cup crushed tomatoes or ½ cup tomato paste diluted with ½ cup water
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp cinnamon powder
½ tsp cumin powder
½ tsp coriander powder
½ tsp paprika
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salt to taste
A pinch of sugar
2 tbsp brandy (optional)
½ cup olive oil
For the béchamel
200 ml milk (warmed)
2 tbsp. flour
2 tbsp. butter
1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
White pepper powder to taste
2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
4 tbsp. grated gruyere cheese (this is my substitution for the egg- don’t like the eggy smell!)
Lightly cook the soaked lentils with some salt and water. I microwaved the lentils for three minutes with half a cup of water and salt, so it allowed me to use the liquid.
Wash and cut the eggplant lengthwise into 1 cm thick slices. Do the same with the potatoes, without removing the skin and keep covered in water. Sprinkle the eggplant slices with plenty of salt and stand in a colander for about half an hour. Wash the slices with cold water and pat them dry on kitchen paper.
In a skillet heat some olive oil and pan fry the eggplant slices followed by the potato slices on both the sides till done. Remove them from the pan and drain excesses oil on kitchen paper. In the same pan, stir fry the kale shreds without adding anymore oil. Keep it aside.
In the same pan again, heat about 2 tbsp oil and add the sliced onions, minced garlic, diced green peppers and sauté. Add the parsley, oregano, all the spices and the cooked lentils. Add the tomatoes/paste, salt and pepper to taste and a pinch of sugar. Add two tbsps brandy. Let the lentil mixture cook for about 5 minutes. Switch off the heat and keep covered.
Preheat the oven to 200 c.
Take a suitable baking dish and layer the bottom with half of the eggplant. Spoon the lentil mixture in a thin layer. Dot the layer with some of the crumbled feta cheese. Then arrange the potato slices and repeat the layer of the lentil mixture and dots of crumbled feta. Now strew the kale over that and add a layer of lentils spread evenly. Top off with remaining eggplant. Cover the dish with aluminium foil and place into the hot oven for about 25 minutes.
In a heavy bottomed saucepan melt the butter and without letting it burn add the flour and mix thoroughly with a balloon whisk without letting it brown. Add the warm milk a little by little and continue to whisk. When the sauce thickens, switch off the heat and let it stand for a few minutes. Then add the grated cheeses, nutmeg, white pepper powder and salt only if required, in the end.
When the 25 minutes are up, remove the dish from the oven and uncover. Pour the thick béchamel in ribbons (yes, that's the mark of a good sauce!) on top of the dish in an even manner. Pop the dish into the oven again and lower the temperature to 175 C. Bake it for another 20 minutes or so, or until the top is golden brown.
Remove from the oven and let it stand for a while to firm up.