Tuesday 19 July 2011

CC Vegetarian Moussaka

It was some weeks ago that I had a cooking session with my friend Yarrow.  He is currently living in Hong Kong without an oven.  All he wanted was to cook food that needed an oven.  An excellent plan given that it is the middle of winter.  I presented some options and he chose the Moussaka with Mushrooms, Lentils and Walnuts from the Cafe Flora Cookbook.

I love this book but you have to have time to make a lot of the main meals.  They often are fiddly with a few components to prepare.  This one was no exception.  The recipe took over 3 pages of text.  It required a mushroom lentil walnut mixture, tomato sauce, bechamel sauce, and roasted eggplants.  The cooking didn't go quite according to plan.  We made some changes, cut corners.  Used different cheese, didn't peel eggplants, didn't warm milk first for the bechamel sauce. The oven went off while we were roasting the eggplants.  The lump of ricotta that Yaz brought from the deli was too big but we just put it all in.
I loved the vegetarian "meat" in the recipe.  Mushrooms, lentils and walnuts are ground up to resemble the minced meat that I loved as a child.  I'd far prefer this vegetarian version today.  It is not a new idea to me.  Ricki's Meaty Veg Based Ground "Meat", Angela's Lentil Walnut Taco Meat II, Sarah's Super Vegie Lentil Taco Meat and my Vegetarian Haggis all give substance, texture and protein to vegetarian dishes.

As an aside, we also tried Ricki's Beet Jerky but it just wouldn't dry out enough to be chewy.  Maybe substituting cornflour for potato starch made a difference.  So that is a faux meat that I must try again before posting about it.  I can tell you that it was a tasty snack while we cooked!

Yarrow did the bulk of the work while I worked on other dishes and minded Sylvia.  She was too interested by all the cooking to be able to sleep.  Instead, she had lots of questions for Yaz: what is your name?  what are you doing?  do you need help Yarrow?  It was warm enough to leave the door open and Sylvia thought maybe she would take dolly and baby doll outside with their dinner.  Later, she was further charmed by Yarrow when he had time to sit and read her a story.

By the time we were ready to serve the moussaka, the topping wasn't as crispy as I would have liked but I loved the way that the juices were bubbling over the edges of the baking dish.  It was messy to serve when freshly cooked but once cooled, sliced up nicely.

We all agreed it was excellent - intense and substantial with the mushroom lentil walnut meat.  The ricotta made the topping extra creamy but I was surprised it wasn't as heavy as I often find lasagna due to the layers of eggplant.  E is wary of eggplant but it was soft and yielding in this dish.  Yaz declared it the best moussaka he had ever had.  I couldn't remember ever eating it before, though I suspect I might have. We followed it with Orange Lavender and Almond Syrup Cake and Mulled Wine while we watched Bagpuss.  Yaz left with packages of food and we were eating moussaka for a few nights to come.

The Cookbook Challenge theme for the fortnight just passed was Hearty.  This dish is perfect so I will be sharing it with my fellow challengers.  To see what they have made, go here.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Lentil quinoa balls and fun links
This time two years ago: Frugal Freezer Stock and a WIP Stew
This time three years ago: Stouty Oatmeal Beer Bread
This time four years ago: Mushroom Yoghurt Pie with Spinach Crust

Moussaka with Mushrooms, Lentils and Walnuts
Adapted from Cafe Flora Cookbook
serves 6-8

Mushroom Lentil Walnut Mixture:
4 large portobello mushrooms
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup green lentils
1 1/2 cup water
1 bay leaf
1 cup walnuts
large handful parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

Roasted Eggplant:
3 large eggplants
2 tbsp rock salt
1/4 cup olive oil

Cinnamon Tomato Sauce:
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 onion, chopped
1 tbsp crushed garlic
1 tsp ground cinnamon
4-5 cloves, ground
1/2 cup red wine
2 x 400g tins of diced tomatoes
2 cups water
large handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano

Ricotta Bechamel:
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup wholemeal plain flour
2 cups milk
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
pinch salt
freshly ground black pepper
about 1/2 cup ricotta cheese

To assemble: 
1 cup grated cheese (we used a mix of parmesan, smoked cheddar and mozzeralla)
1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs

To make Mushroom-Lentil-Walnut Mixture:
Roast mushrooms with olive oil in a 180 C (350 F) oven for about 20 minutes or until mushrooms shrink and smell cooked.  Cook lentils in a medium saucepan with water and bayleaf for about 20-25 minutes.  We turned off the heat and left lentils covered in a saucepan to absorb more water while we prepared other parts of the meal.  Discard bay leaf before using.  Dry-fry walnuts on a frypan until starting to brown and smell cooked.  Blend mushrooms, lentils and walnuts in a food processor until they are "the texture of ground beef".  Stir in remaining ingredients and taste.  Adjust seasonings as desired.

To Make the Roasted Eggplants:
Cut eggplants into 1 cm thick rounds.  Place in a colander and sprinkle with salt (NB Yaz had so many slices of eggplant that he had trouble moving them about, so use a good sized colander if you have one.)  Rest for about 30 minutes.  Rinse thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels.  Place eggplant in two greased roasting dishes or baking trays.  Brush with olive oil and roast for about 30 minutes or until "tender".  (NB Tender is how the book describes it, but I would say cooked through and even soft.  No one liked undercooked eggplant!)

To make the Cinnamon Tomato Sauce:
Heat oil in a medium saucepan and gently fry onion and salt for about 10 minutes until soft and translucent.  Sitr in garlic, cinnamon and cloves for about 1 minutes.  Add red wine to deglaze and cook a couple of minutes until most of the wine is absorbed.  Add tomatoes, water, parsley and oregano.  Simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes.

To make Ricotta Bechamel Sauce:
Melt butter in a medium saucepan and then stir in flour.  Cook for a few minutes over a low heat.  Gradually add milk and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens.  Add nutmeg and ricotta and stir to combine (I found our ricotta slightly lumpy but it didn't matter if it wasn't completely smooth).  Add salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble:
Preheat the oven to 180 C (350 F).  Grease a 13 x 9 inch baking dish.  Layer half the tomato sauce, half the eggplants, half the walnut mixture, and half the cheese.  Repeat layers.  Sprinkle with breadcrumbs.  Bake for 45 - 60 minutes.  Ideally let sit 15 minutes before eating, depending on how hungry you are.

On the stereo:
The Greatest Hits: Teardrop Explodes


  1. Oh, Johanna, I bow down to you. I've become the most "only the simplest of recipes please" cook since moving out and cooking just for myself! I really should set aside a weekend to treat myself to more complicated cookery! This truly looks magnificent.

  2. Wow, it looks fantastic! Moussaka is such an awesome veg meal although I think my vegan recipe still needs some tweaking. I have always enjoyed cooking moussaka even though it is such a lengthy process, in fact I call it my labour of love. Funny that you mentioned other "meat" alternatives as I tried Ricki's ground "meat" last week and am writing a post about it.

  3. The recipe does look quite long but the result looks delicious and clever way of making "meat"!

  4. Three pages! I take my hat off to you! It looks like it was well worth it - I bet this Moussaka was even better the next day.

  5. I can always rely on you for the best comfort vegetarian meals, Johanna. That, and cakes, too!

  6. My family is Greek, so I don't see the words 'vegetarian' and 'moussaka' together very often, but this looks delicious! I'm putting it on the list for next week.

    Hannah - I reckon this kind of thing is actually perfect for people cooking just for themselves: it reheats and freezes well and only tastes better after a couple of days. I'll make it if you do!

  7. Thanks Hannah - I learnt to cook such meals when I lived in share houses when I had people to help and didn't have to cook every night - wish I could share an afternoon in the kitchen with you - am sure you would find it easier if you had time and company when cooking

    Thanks Mel - will look forward to your vegan moussaka - and I must try ricki's faux meat - seems a great recipe

    Thanks Lorraine - yes I love the "meat" more than the real stuff - and I think you need a really substantial filling for this dish

    Thanks Keely - it was three pages of satisfaction and the moussaka kept very well over a few days though I think it would have been even better than next day if I had the parience to cook it more and make the topping really crispy.

    Thanks Anh - yes this is real comfort food

    Thanks Lexi - this dish makes me wish to eat more greek food because it is so good - and I like your attitude to dishes to cook solo!

  8. "He is currently living in Hong Kong without an oven. All he wanted was to cook food that needed an oven."

    Hahaha, this made me laugh, and I can relate to it so much because I've lived in very small apartments without an oven for so many years!

    Your moussaka looks great, and I'm sure my Dad would love this! He's very found of eggplants. Me? Not so much ... It's one of the vegetables I usually pick out. :O But I love the idea of making a kind of lasagna with vegetable layers instead of pasta (because I don't eat pasta), so I think I should give them a try some time again. Zucchini might also work for that. Or carrots! I think I'd love that. :)

  9. Just gorgeous Johanna. I think you should make another trip to Edinburgh and stop of in Dundee with this dish for me!

  10. You really can't go wrong with lentils, mushrooms and walnuts - such beautiful ingredients and the end result looks mouthwateringly good!

  11. I have the Cafe Flora cookbook too and while many of the recipes sound amazing, I don't think I've made one thing from it because they're definitely not weeknight meals! I've actually been to the restaurant once, when I was on a trip to Seattle, Washington. I had brought this cookbook with me (because I bring cookbooks everywhere haha) and I didn't even realize the restaurant was in Seattle until I was looking through the book so of course we had to go, and it was amazing. Anyway, this moussaka looks really good, I'll have to search out that recipe.


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