Moussaka - A Dish Best Served Lukewarm

Much like Italian cookery, Greek cuisine is entrenched in history. It is lovingly prepared and enjoyed with such gusto that visitors to Greece cannot help but be entranced by their simple, delicious meals.
In a hot country like Greece, the climate dictates much of the food so there are cooling yogurt drinks, spiked with fresh or dried mint to sooth, fresh salads made with sun-ripened tomatoes, thirst-quenching watermelon and salty feta. Desserts come in the form of rose-water drenched cakes or multi-layered pastries like Baklava. The Greeks love sticky, sweet desserts.
Possibly the most famous Greek dish is Moussaka. Once a mainstay of 1970s restaurants, the dish is rarely seen over here nowadays, except as a ready-meal in your local supermarket freezers, relegated to that regretful footnote in British cuisine known as “out of fashion”, along with Arctic Roll, Lasagne and Melon Balls.

Moussaka (from the Arabic musaqqaa meaning “chilled”) is a many strata-ed dish, with complex flavours running throughout. The meat sauce layer, traditionally Lamb, is heavily seasoned with Allspice, Cinnamon and Honey, yet none of these strong spices are overwhelming. I replaced the lamb mince with vegan-friendly TVP which I soak in the cooking stock with some oil, to infuse the "meat" with a more authentic texture and flavour. The result is, conversely, deeply savoury and would work as a wonderful ragu with pasta if you didn’t want to go to all the trouble of making the Moussaka.
Other than the apple pie spices, what is unusual about Moussaka is that it should be served, like revenge, lukewarm or even completely chilled (hence the origins of the name). In fact, it makes total sense. All the flavours vie for attention when eaten straight out of the oven, when cool, they start to mingle and meld in the most delightful way – a true meeting of minds, or at least, ingredients.
And what are the other ingredients? Well, for those of you unlucky enough never to have been to Greece (that’s me too!) and/or try Moussaka, it is notable for its additional layers of fried aubergine and slices of boiled potatoes. And then there’s that wonderful, souffle-like cheese sauce topping, the creamy blandness of which ties all the other ingredients together. Traditionally stuffed with Gruyere or Mozzarella, I have replaced the dairy sauce with my favourite non-dairy cheese sauce, with major props to Erin at Olives for Dinner!
Now, you’re correct when you think that this is a slightly labour intensive dish. But, it is well worth the effort and it is certainly best prepared at least the day beforehand, the ragu can be made several days ahead. Also, it is versatile. No Aubergines in the store? Then use Courgettes. At this time of the year everyone knows someone who grows them. You can omit the potato layer if you’re not too keen. You can make a colourful dish by layering potatoes, courgette, aubergine AND the ragu, or you can keep it simple. As with Lasagne, you must make this to suit your time-schedule but most importantly, your palate.

MOUSSAKA – serves 6-8
500g TVP (soaked weight, so 300g dried?), soaked in 200ml beef-flavoured stock with a good drizzle of olive oil in it
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Large Onion, peeled and finely sliced 2 Cloves Garlic, peeled and finely sliced
450g Tinned Tomatoes and their juice 150ml Red Wine (optional but really helps to deepen the flavour)
1 Tablespoon Dried Oregano
½ Teaspoon Brown Rice Syrup
2 Teaspoons Cinnamon
½ Teaspoon Allspice
Salt and Pepper
1 Large Aubergine, topped, tailed and cut into long slices lengthwise
3 Courgettes, topped, tailed and cut into long slices lengthwise
300g New Potatoes, peeled, cut into slices and cooked until almost tender
Use a combination of all three of the above, using only 2 courgettes and 200g Potatoes
Freya's Note:I add some grated Nutmeg to the sauce to make it more authentically "Bechemel"-like.

Make the Ragu:
Heat the olive oil in a large, deep frying pan. Gently saute the onion until soft, then add the rehydrated TVP, saving the soaking liquer for later.
Pour over the red wine.
Once the red wine has reduced by half, sprinkle over the honey, cinnamon, allspice and oregano and season with salt and pepper.
Pour over the reserved stock and tinned tomatoes and leave the sauce to simmer for at least half an hour or until thickened and slightly reduced. Your sauce will be a rich, mahogany colour. Taste for seasoning, does it need more cinnamon? More salt? Remove from the heat and leave to one side.
To prepare the vegetables:
Heat about 3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan until really hot, then fry off the slices of aubergine or courgette until golden on both sides. Drain on kitchen paper.
Courgettes/Zucchini ready to go!
Aubergine ready to be sauteed!!
They're done!!

Make the Cheese Sauce as per Erin's instructions.

To assemble:
Preheat oven to 180c.
Place a layer of potatoes in the bottom of your baking dish, then a layer of ragu, then aubergine/courgettes, then some of the "cheese" sauce. Repeat, ensuring you end with the white sauce.
Grate some Vegan Parmesan over the top and bake, uncovered for about 45 minutes, until the top is puffy and golden.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely.
Serve with a crisp salad and a rustic loaf of bread.

1 comment:

  1. hello. for some reason this morning i had a serious hankering for moussaka, something i've only ever had a few times and it was always warm. i remember thinking this morning that we are in the throes of summer, that this dish would have to wait for autumn and then this: it's supposed to be served cool! perfect. thank you for the info, i do believe this will make an appearance soon.


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