This vegetarian moussaka is a classic Greek dish made with aubergine and lentils in a rich tomatoey sauce. The perfect healthy vegetarian comfort food!
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Whenever I go to a Greek restaurant (which admittedly isn't very often), I order vegetarian moussaka. Greek food is actually pretty veggie-friendly (spanakopita! hummus! briam! halloumi!), but even with heaps of incredible meat-free dishes on offer, I always seem to find myself tempted back to the vegetarian moussaka. There's not much that can beat a hot, cosy casserole.
What is vegetarian moussaka?
In case you've never tried moussaka before (you poor thing), it's a casserole made with aubergines (eggplants), potatoes and meat, all topped off with a thick layer of creamy béchamel sauce.
This vegetarian version obviously skips the meat (bet you thought you were in the wrong place for a second there) - I used lentils instead, to make a hearty, comforting veggie meal.
There are various ways of making moussaka, depending on what version you're making - it's not only a Greek dish, but is also made in Egypt, Turkey, and various other nearby countries. This version isn't intended to be 100% authentic (you should probably find an actual Greek person for that), but it's my easy, hearty, delicious version.
Simple moussaka recipe
The ingredients in a moussaka aren't fancy. I find that all the best comfort food is super straightforward, made with hearty ingredients cooked simply. Think stews, casseroles, pies - often they're just classic combinations of veggies cooked without any special techniques. It doesn't need to be anything fancy to fill you with comfort.
Moussaka is just the same - it's just made with 4 layers of simple ingredients.
What layers does a moussaka have?
This vegetarian moussaka has 4 different bands:
- sliced aubergine (eggplant), sautéed in olive oil
- thinly sliced potato
- rich, tomatoey lentils
- a creamy, thick béchamel sauce
It doesn't really matter how you layer up your moussaka, as long as you get all those tasty elements in there somewhere.
Healthy comfort food
The majority of a moussaka is pretty healthy - there's nothing remotely naughty about tomatoey lentils, aubergine with boiled potato slices.
The thick layer of béchamel sauce is a little more indulgent, but I'm a firm believer in moderation, and if a bit of white sauce makes a healthy casserole absolutely irresistible, that can only be a good thing.
How do you serve moussaka?
Moussaka is a main dish, which already contains a pretty good balance of protein, carbs, and veg, so feel free to serve it on its own if you like.
But if you do fancy something a little extra on the side, here are a few ideas:
- a big green salad
- a tray of mixed roasted veggies
- garlic bread
- toasted pitta bread
- chips (French fries) - though you might prefer to skip the potato in the moussaka if you want chips on the side!
Cosy comfort food
This vegetarian moussaka is just my kind of comfort food - it's got lots of goodness, but feels like a real treat at the same time. Just the kind of cosy meal I love to curl up with at this time of year (because you'd better believe I'm eating this on the sofa wrapped in a blanket!).
How do you like to keep snug at this time of year? If you're looking for some more wintery inspiration, check out this guide to all things cosy on the AO.com website. It's got plenty of warming recipes, tips for getting your home ready for winter, and even a cosy playlist to help get you in the mood for winter.
Sunday afternoon recipe
One of my favourite ways to cosy up indoors when it's cold outside is to spend a Sunday afternoon in the kitchen. Although most of the recipes I share here are pretty quick to make, this vegetarian moussaka does take a bit longer - probably around 50 minutes, plus baking time.
If I was trying to cook this moussaka on a busy weeknight, I'd be annoyed at having to spend so long cooking - but if you've got nothing else to be doing, it can actually be really fun to busy yourself in the kitchen (perhaps with a glass of wine and that AO.com cosy playlist!).
What's your favourite way to keep snug at this time of year? Have you ever made a vegetarian moussaka?
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- 2 small aubergines (eggplants), or 1 large
- 3 tablespoon olive oil, divided
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 400 g tin (~ 1 ⅓ cups) chopped tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon tomato puree / paste
- 200 g (~ 1 cup) dried red lentils
- 500 ml (~ 2 cups) vegetable stock
- 2 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon dried mint
- Black pepper
- 1 large potato
- 45 g (~ 3 tbsp) butter
- 3 tablespoon plain flour
- 400 ml (~ 1 ½ cups) milk
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Black pepper
- 1 large tomato, sliced
- Remove the stalks from the aubergines, and cut in half widthwise so they’re easier to manage. Cut each piece into thin slices.
- Drizzle some olive oil into a large flat-bottomed frying pan, and add a single layer of aubergine slices. Cook the aubergine for a few minutes each side, until slightly golden, and soft and pliable. You’ll probably need to cook the aubergine in several batches, so when the first batch is cooked, transfer the slices to a plate, and repeat with the next batch until you've used all the slices. You may need to add a fresh drizzle of olive oil for each batch.
- While the aubergine is cooking, you can prepare the lentil mixture. Heat a dash of oil in a saucepan, and add the chopped onions and garlic. Cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, red lentils, vegetable stock, dried herbs, and a good pinch of black pepper. Mix well to combine, and bring to a simmer. Cook for around 15-20 minutes, stirring regularly, until the lentils are soft (you can add a dash more water if needed).
- Wash the potato, and cut it into very thin slices - I used a mandoline. The thin slices allow you to add the potato to the moussaka without pre-cooking, but if you don't have a mandoline, or you just prefer thicker slices of potato, parboil the potato slices for 5 minutes before using.
- To begin assembling the vegetarian moussaka, lay half of the aubergine slices in the bottom of a large baking dish (mine measured approx. 12 x 7 inches). Add the lentil mixture on top, then a layer of potato slices, and the remaining aubergine.
- To make the béchamel sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan, and add the flour. Mix well to create a roux (a thick paste), and cook for a minute or two over a medium-low heat. Add the milk a dash at a time, stirring until smooth each time before adding more (find more detailed instructions for how to make a white sauce here). Season with salt and pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg.
- Smooth the white sauce over the dish, and top with a few slices of tomato. Bake at 190°C (Gas Mark 5 / 375°F) for around an hour, until the potato slices are completely cooked (you'll need to cover the dish with foil after 20-30 minutes, once the top is browned to your liking). If using parboiled potato slices, you can bake it for less time.
- Leave the moussaka to stand for 10 minutes or so after you remove it from the oven (this allows you to cut it into neat slices), then serve warm.
Nutritional information is approximate, and will depend on your exact ingredients. Please calculate your own nutritional values if you require accuracy for health reasons.