We’ve decided to stay up in Vermont for the winter. I know! I know! Most people fly south for the winter. After spending 29 of my 30 years in Texas, however, I decided an actual winter was in order. So I wake up to this every morning:
Of course, the dude can work any where he likes. I on the other hand am continuing my unemployment trend in pursuit of another life long goal. This gives me ample time to cook and blog. Hopefully this will end the 6 month or so long blog dry spell. I’ve been cooking all this time, but also teaching 8th grade, so there’s been very little time to actually write about it.
The weather seems to make me want nothing but soft, warm comfort food. When I was recently asked to bring some sort of hearty vegetable dish to a family gathering, the only thought that would come into my head was Moussaka. I love all things Greek. I love eggplant. I love feta cheese. I certainly love béchamel. The only thing I don’t love is the current lack of Zoe-friendly meat in my freezer. We’re pretty much on vegetarian rations right now. That’s fine, actually. I do love the challenge of filling us up without the ease of using meat.
The following is what I came up with after pursuing recipes for moussaka. It’s a combination of different points from the many that I read. Over all, I loved it. It was a rather time-consuming recipe, but I was in the mood to chop and fuss and prep.
1/2 cup of green lentils
4-6 cups water
2 small yellow onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup beer
2 (14 oz) cans tomatoes, diced
1 cup cherry tomato, halved
2 tbs fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 tbs fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
2 tbs fresh oregano leaves, chopped
kosher salt, fresh cracked pepper
2 eggplants, peeled and sliced
2 zucchini, sliced
2 baking potato, sliced
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup whole grain bread crumbs
5 tbs unsalted butter
4 tbs unbleached flour
3 cups 2% milk
1 cup half and half
1 tsp salt
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of white pepper (which I didn’t have, so I used black)
Peel eggplant, and slice it about 1/8 inch thick. Place the slices in a large colander and apply a very liberal amount of salt. Set this aside for at least 30 minutes while you prep the filling and slice the other vegetables. The goal here is to pull some of the moisture from the eggplant. After 30 minutes, rinse thoroughly with water and then dry with paper towels.
To prepare the filling: Boil the lentils in the water (salted) until almost done. Leave them with just a little bite to them. Drain and set aside. In a large pot, sauté the onions in a small amount of olive oil. Add garlic, and cook just to soften. Deglaze the pan with the beer, then add the canned tomato. Add back the lentils, fresh tomato, and seasonings. Simmer the filling for a bout 30 minutes. The filling should be quite, thick and most of the liquid will reduce. (I had extra filling which I used on top of some whole wheat spaghetti for lunch.)
In a large skillet, heat a little bit of olive oil. Brown the eggplant, one side at a time. Set aside. Brown the zucchini in the same pan and set aside. Add a small amount more oil, then cook the potatoes until they are a bit softened, but not fully cooked. Set aside.
In a 13X9 inch pan, lay down a layer with each of the vegetables. You will have more eggplant than anything else, so try to work it so that each of the 3 layers will have some of each vegetable. I placed eggplant, zucchini, and potato in bands. For the bottom layer I placed: eggplant, zucchini, eggplant, potato. In the next layer I placed the vegetables so that they were directly above a different vegetable. The idea was that each piece cut from the casserole would contain all three vegetables.
On top of the first layer of vegetable spread about 1 cup of the lentil filling, then top that with a little feta and a little Parmesan. Top with another layer of vegetables, then filling, then cheese. Make sure to end the layering with vegetables on top. Bake the casserole at 350°F for about 25 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow it to stand for about 15 minutes. The casserole may be a little watery when taken from the oven, but should reabsorb most of the liquid.
While it cools, make the white sauce. In a straight sided skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour on top of the butter and whisk together to form a roux. Cook the roux until it is a dark sandy color, just starting to brown. Add the milk and half and half, whisking to incorporate. Continue to stir until the mixture thickens. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Taste for flavor, and re-season if necessary. (You will have extra white sauce. Use it on pasta, or any recipe that calls for a cream sauce. Mine will probably go into Tuna Noodle Casserole to be frozen for later.)
Pour just enough of the béchamel over the vegetable casserole to cover it lightly. Top with the bread crumbs and more cheese if desired. Bake uncovered until the potatoes are fully cooked, about 30 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes before cutting.