One of the most famous Greek foods is undoubtedly the Greek moussaka, a baked dish with layers of eggplants and potatoes and a meaty sauce between them. This dish is actually of unknown origin as we can find several variations not only in Greece but also in Turkey as well as other countries. However traditional Greek moussaka has a top layer of bechamel sauce, probably an influence by the French cuisine and moreover it is always served hot. But the famous moussaka in fact is a really complicated, heavy dish, since its original recipe requires to fry all the vegetables, to fry and then cook the meat to make the sauce, to cover with a greasy bechamel and eventually to end up with a mountain of dirty utensils and oils all over the kitchen walls, Well I wouldn’t really call it what one would opt to make for dinner! But an oil-free, vegan moussaka is a completely different story! Rich in nutritional value and with a mouthwatering taste thanks to the variety of vegetables we use, light and much easier to prepare, it has become one of the foods we enjoy regularly during spring and summer when eggplants are on their best.
Overall, I need about one hour to prepare it, since I do not fry anything, but I bake the sliced vegetables for a while in the oven – just as long as they need to soften slightly and eliminate some of their moisture. For the sauce I use lentils, fresh ripe tomatoes, fresh mushrooms and finely chopped nuts for an even better texture and taste. Although some might have objections to the way I prepare my vegan “bechamel”, since I do not add any oily substance to my recipe, I am going to say just try it!
As we cherish all summer vegetables, I used a lot of them for my recipe! So my vegan moussaka is made by three layers of vegetables: slices of selected potatoes at the base of the pan, sweet aubergines in the middle and slices of green courgettes on top. Actually we love this vegan moussaka, as it is oil free, the baked vegetables retain all their taste, it’s delicious, it is made much easier and faster than the classic non vegan moussaka and it incorporates the Greek summer in every bite!
(for 6-8 large portions)
for the layers of vegetables
- 1 large or 2 medium potatoes peeled and thinly sliced (0,5 cm)
- 3-4 large eggplants, sliced
- 4-5 large zucchini, thinly sliced
for the mushroom and lentil sauce
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, pureed
- 250 g fresh mushrooms finely chopped (I use oyster mushrooms)
- 1/2 cup of water
- 1/2 cup white wine (or extra water)
- 1 red sweet bell pepper, finely chopped
- 4 medium ripe tomatoes grated (or blended in a food processor)
- 1 large carrot coarsely grated
- 1/2 cup dry lentils
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup raw nuts or seeds, slightly chopped but not powdered (we can use almonds, walnuts or sunflower seeds)
- 1 tsp salt (or according to our taste)
- 1/2 tsp dried hot chili peppers
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- freshly ground pepper
for the oil free, vegan “bechamel” sauce
- 4 cups (1 liter) plant based milk, store-bought or homemade without sugar (I like to use unsweetened rice or oat milk)
- 12 level tbsp all purpose flour
- 1 or 2 vegan bouillon cubes (store-bought or homemade), depending on how salty we like our sauce (I use two!)
- freshly ground pepper
- freshly ground nutmeg (optional)
- 3-4 handfuls of grated vegan cheese or nutritional yeast (for a 100% oil free recipe)
- bread crumbs for sprinkling
1. For the vegetable layers: Cut the eggplants into slices of about 1 cm thick. Salt them and leave them aside for about 30 minutes. That way they will become sweeter! Cut the potatoes and zucchini into thin slices about 1/2 cm. To cut even slices, I use the vegetable mandolin slicer.
2. Lay a large baking pan with non stick paper and put the eggplants and the zucchini slices in the pan. It doesn’t matter if they overlap, since you will bake them just enough to soften, so they will not stick together. Bake in a preheated oven for 30 minutes at 200 ° C. Potatoes do not need to be pre-baked – they will be perfectly cooked by absorbing moisture and flavors from the sauce while you bake your moussaka.
3. For the sauce: In a large and deep pan or in a saucepan, put the onion, garlic and mushrooms and sauté for a few minutes. Add the wine (or extra water), the lentils, pepper, carrot, parsley, tomatoes, season and simmer over low heat for 35-45 minutes until the lentils soften and the sauce thickens. Finally, pour the nuts, mix and turn off the fire.
4. Assembly: Grease a medium-sized deep baking dish (I used a 29x21x6cm) or use a non-stick cookware. At the bottom arrange the potatoes, slightly overlapping each slice with the next so as not to allow any gaps between them. Pour 1/3 of the sauce over the potato layer and spread it evenly with a spoon. Sprinkle with a handful of cheese or nutritional yeast and continue with the next layer. Arrange the baked eggplants, 1/3 of the sauce, vegan cheese and finally the baked zucchini slices, the rest of the sauce and the rest of the vegan cheese.
5. For the vegan bechamel: In a saucepan, add half of the vegan milk along with the vegan bouillon cubes, nutmeg and pepper and stir over medium heat until the cubes completely dissolve. Add the remaining milk in the blender along with the flour and blend for a few seconds until the flour is dissolved and no lumps are present. Once the milk in the pan comes to a boil, pour the flour mixture in the pan and stir continuously, over low to medium, heat with a wooden spoon for 5-10 minutes until a thick cream is formed.
6. Pour the bechamel over the moussaka, sprinkle immediately with a generous amount of bread crumbs and bake at 200 o C for about an hour or until the surface is golden.
7. Allow the moussaka to cool slightly for half an hour and serve hot.
Note: Wash the tomatoes thoroughly and blend them without removing the spores and the peels. That way you will add some extra nutrients in your recipe but most importantly you will add to the taste as it has been found that the umami is hidden in these two parts of the fruit!
For the bechamel we can use any unsweetened plant-based milk but our favorite version is with rice or oat milk.