This meal always gets my family excited. If it’s on the menu, Eliza can be heard to swoon the words: “Good day, food-wise.” My reply is: “It’s always a good day, food-wise!”
4 aubergines (or eggplants, to my Aussie friends)
Himalayan pink salt or Celtic sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cherry tomatoes (or tinned, if you like)
200 g tomato paste
4 cloves garlic
3 bay leaves
Tablespoon or two of maple syrup, or sugar if you prefer
Handful of basil leaves
40 g olive oil (instead of butter or margarine)
40 g flour (gluten-free is fine)
500 ml plant milk (soya, rice or oat)
60 g vegan cheese
Nutmeg (freshly ground)
600 g potatoes
First things first. Slice the aubergines into rounds about one centimetre thick. Now, here’s the key to making aubergines taste good: don’t skimp on the olive oil. I’ve tasted aubergines that are simply awful because their talent for sponging up olive oil has been ignored! Splash a bunch of olive oil into the bottom of a baking dish. Place your aubergines (one layer thick) into the tray and sprinkle with salt. Drizzle more oil on top. You want your aubergines baked so they become golden. They won’t do this without the oil. Bake the aubergines at about 200C, on both sides, until golden, before layering with the other ingredients. While this is happening, peel and slice the potatoes about 1 centimetre thick, and boil till half-cooked, then drain.
Now, make the tomato sauce. This is what makes the difference between a so-so moussaka and one that you’ll want to make over and over again. Fry the onions in olive oil, and when softened add the tomatoes. It’s nice to use fresh tomatoes, but feel free to use tinned if you prefer. Add the garlic (chopped, not crushed) and the bay leaves. You’ll want to cook it for about half an hour till it’s well reduced. In that time, you’ll need to add a tube of tomato paste and a cup or two of water. Add salt and pepper to taste. Depending on the quality of your tomatoes, you’ll need to sweeten it a little. Maple syrup or sugar will give it a ‘yum’ factor. Add the basil just before layering your moussaka.
Heat the oven to 200C. Make the béchamel sauce by heating the oil, adding the flour, and stirring till well mixed. Add the milk, and whisk well until thickened. Add the grated cheese, and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Don’t leave out the nutmeg!
Layer the moussaka by starting with a double layer of aubergines. Then place half the tomato sauce. Put the potato on next, then the remaining half of the tomato sauce. Add the last of the aubergine and place the béchamel on top. Don’t feel you have to have it smooth on the top. I like it when pieces of aubergine stick out. If you want, you can add extra cheese to it by sprinkling grated cheese on top. I prefer instead to sprinkle nutmeg on the top once it comes out of the oven. Bake for half an hour. Allow it to go golden. Serve with a scrumptious salad! And good music. We play Nana Mouskouri!