The best-ever moussaka

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Preparation info

  • Serves

    6–8

    • Difficulty

      Medium

Appears in

Vegetables: The new food heroes

Vegetables

By Peter Gordon

Published 2007

  • About

Some people might argue that the best moussaka should be made with minced mutton, rather than being a vegetarian dish, and that’s almost correct. What I prefer, though, is to serve this veggie version with roast leg or braised shoulder of lamb and a feta cucumber salad – although it’s also fabulous with a green salad as a meal in itself. The mutton version originates from the Balkans, Turkey and Greece, where plenty of sheep are to be found in the hills, but this is a great comfort-food dish, whether or not it has meat in it.

Ingredients

  • 1 kg large potatoes, scrubbed
  • 2 large aubergines, stalk removed, cut lengthways into 1cm thick slices
  • olive oil for brushing
  • extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
  • green leaves for garnish (optional)

For the Tomato Sauce

  • 1 large red onion, sliced
  • 1 large white onion, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 large carrots, grated
  • 1 large thumb of ginger, peeled and grated
  • ½ teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 2 bay leaves, halved
  • 4 tablespoons sun-dried tomato paste (or use regular tomato paste)
  • 2 large (400 g) cans of chopped tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped hard herbs (rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme)

For the Cheese Sauce

  • 50 g butter
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 120 g flour
  • 800 ml milk, heated
  • 2 eggs
  • 100 g feta cheese, crumbled
  • 100 g Parmesan cheese, grated

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas 4. Make the tomato sauce: sauté both the onions over a moderate heat in the olive oil, stirring often, until just beginning to caramelize. Add the garlic, carrots, ginger, chilli and bay leaves, and cook for another 3 minutes, still stirring often. Add the tomato paste, chopped tomatoes and herbs, and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, cut the potatoes into slices about 5mm thick and simmer in plenty of salted water until just cooked, then carefully drain in a colander.

Brush the aubergine slices with oil – they absorb oil like kitchen paper does, so don’t smother them – then either grill or fry until golden on both sides. They don’t need to be fully cooked – a little underdone is better than fully cooked.

Make the cheese sauce: heat the butter and extra-virgin olive oil together until the butter sizzles, then add the flour and cook for 20 seconds, stirring constantly. Take off the heat and whisk in the warm milk, then return to the stove and bring to a simmer. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Leave to cool for 5 minutes, then mix in the eggs and cheeses.

Assemble the moussaka by laying half the potatoes on the base of a 3-litre gratin dish, then spread on half of the tomato sauce, followed by half the aubergines and one-third of the cheese sauce. Repeat these layers, finishing with a layer of the cheese sauce. Drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil and bake for 50–60 minutes, until the top has become golden and the moussaka is heated through.

Allow to settle and cool for about 5 minutes before serving, garnished with some green leaves if you like.