Vegetarian Moussaka

Moussakas Nistisimos

My mother and her family called this dish Pseudo-moussaka, and I presumed that it was a name used by all Greeks. But once in Heraklion, Crete, I mentioned it in a conversation and everybody laughed. They thought I had created a fancy name for a nameless dish, usually referred to as Baked Eggplant with Tomato Sauce.

If you omit the cheese, this is one more Lenten version of a popular dish.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 medium eggplants
  • Sea salt
  • 3 large green bell peppers
  • cup olive oil
  • 1 very large or 2 small potatoes, thinly sliced

Tomato Sauce

  • 2 large onions, coarsely chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1 large green bell pepper, diced
  • teaspoons minced fresh chili pepper, or to taste
  • ½ cup dry red wine
  • 5 large tomatoes, peeled and diced (about cups)
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • Grated nutmeg
  • Ground cinnamon (optional)
  • ½ cup dark raisins
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt, or to taste
  • 1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • ½ cup ground walnuts
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, peeled and sliced
  • ½ cup bread crumbs
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Method

Cut off the stems from the eggplants and peel in strips, leaving roughly half the skin on the eggplants. Cut across into ⅓-inch slices. Salt well on both sides, and leave in a colander for at least 30 minutes to drain and rid of bitterness.

Cut the peppers in halves or in thirds lengthwise to obtain flat pieces. Discard the stems and seeds, and place under the broiler, skin side up. Roast for about 10 minutes, or until the skins blister and turn black. Remove from the oven, place in a bowl, and cover with a plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes, then peel.

Rinse the eggplant slices under running water and pat dry with paper towels. Brush both sides with olive oil, and broil, turning once, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until both sides are golden.

Heat the remaining oil in a nonreactive frying pan over high heat and fry the potatoes for 3 to 4 minutes, until just soft. Remove with a ladle and arrange in a layer on the bottom of a clay or glass baking dish (about 15½ x 10½ inches). It doesn’t matter if some gaps are left between slices.

In the oil in which you have fried the potatoes, sauté the onions, bell pepper, and chili pepper until the onions are translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, nutmeg, a little cinnamon, and the raisins. Simmer for another 10 minutes, or until the sauce starts to thicken. Taste and add more salt and chili pepper if needed. The sauce should be quite strongly flavored.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Arrange the eggplant slices on top of the potatoes. Spoon half the tomato sauce over them. Sprinkle with the feta cheese and walnuts. Cover with the broiled peppers, spoon the rest of the tomato sauce over the peppers, and spread evenly. Top with the tomato slices, sprinkle with the bread crumbs, and season with a little salt and freshly ground pepper.

Place on the bottom rack of the oven and bake for 1 hour. Check after 45 minutes and if the top has browned, cover loosely with aluminum foil for the rest of the cooking time.

Let cool completely on a rack before serving.