As our new cookbook release date approaches and we enter a really busy season of our lives (more on that soon!), we count on hearty and sustainable meals like this lentil moussaka to see us through periods of tiredness or stress. If you are feeling any kind of holiday season-related pressure, it might just be the perfect, comforting dish for you, too. I love casserole-style dishes – they take some initial effort to put together, but afterwards they turn into a meal that just keeps on giving. This moussaka is definitely like that – the portion is big enough to have dinner or lunch taken care of for a solid few days, it keeps well and only gets better with age, can be eaten hot or cold, and can even be re-imagined as, say, a toast topping, if its initial layered charm ever wears off.
Moussaka is cooked in numerous countries in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, and the recipe varies from region to region, but it usually involves layers of ground meat, eggplant or potatoes, and a béchamel or egg custard blanket on top. In our vegan version, protein-rich lentils take place of the ground meat. Once they are cooked in a mixture of mushrooms, carrots, onion, herbs, and crushed tomatoes, and layered with silky roasted eggplant, it’s incredible how savory and satisfying they become. We went with mashed potatoes for the top layer, in place of the custard or béchamel, which takes this dish even further into the cozy and wintery meal territory. The mashed potato blanket also gets the most incredible, crispy, golden crust on top after some time in the oven, which makes the whole thing even more irresistible. I suggest roasting the eggplant, making the mashed potatoes, and maybe even cooking the lentils in advance, that way assembling the moussaka will feel like a breeze.
All the ingredients in this recipe are very affordable and widely available, and it’s amazing that such a satisfying meal can be made with just lentils and veggies. I generally make sure to keep a big jar of French lentils in my pantry, because they are very versatile and perfect for adding substance to all kinds of plant-based meals. Lentils fall under the category of pulses, together with chickpeas, beans and dry peas, which are all perfect vehicles for sustainable and nourishing meals. We’ve been having a ton of fun working with USA Pulses and Pulse Canada on creating accessible recipes, centered around pulses, as part of their Half Cup Habit initiative. Try adding a half cup of pulses to your meals a few times a week – they will up your whole healthy cooking game, I promise. For more of our pulses recipes, head here, as well as to the Half Cup Habit website. Enjoy :)
- 3 medium-large eggplants - sliced in ½ inch thick rounds
- 4 tablespoons neutral coconut or olive oil - divided
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup dried French lentils - soaked overnight in purified water with a splash of acv
- 4 medium Yukon gold potatoes - peeled and quartered
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or ghee (not vegan!), plus more for brushing the mashed potato layer
- 1 large yellow onion - chopped
- 2 medium carrots - sliced
- 1-2 celery ribs - sliced (optional)
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon each fresh or dried thyme, oregano and/or marjoram (optional)
- 3 garlic cloves - sliced
- 1 lb baby bella or crimini mushrooms - sliced
- 1 28 oz can of box of crushed tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- ½ tablespoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
- handful of toasted pine nuts (optional)
- chopped parsley and dill - for garnish (optional)
- Preheat oven to 400° F (200° C). Prepare two parchment paper-covered baking sheets. Arrange the eggplant slices on the baking sheets in a single layer, oil with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil/olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for 20 minutes. Flip the slices and roast for another 15 minutes, until silky. Set aside. Lower the oven temperature to 375° F (190° C).
- While the eggplant is roasting, drain and rinse the lentils. Cover them with purified water in a medium pot, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for 10-15 minutes or until cooked, but not mushy. Add salt at the end. Drain over a colander and set aside.
- Place the potatoes in the same pot you used to cook the lentils, cover with purified water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until soft throughout. Add salt at the end, then drain, reserving ¼ cup of the cooking water. Return the potatoes to the same pot. Mash them with 2 tablespoons of olive oil or ghee, black pepper and ¼ cup of the reserved cooking water. Taste for salt and adjust if needed. Continue to mash until smooth. Set aside.
- Warm the remaining 2 tablespoons of coconut oil/olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, carrots, celery, if using, salt and pepper, red pepper flakes and oregano/thyme/marjoram, if using. Sauté for 7 minutes, until the vegetables soften up. Add the mushrooms and sauté for another 8 minutes, until the water released by the mushrooms evaporates and they begin to brown. Add garlic and stir around for another minute.
- Add the lentils, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, smoked paprika, cinnamon and nutmeg, if using, to the pot with the mushrooms. Stir to combine, then cover and cook for 5 minutes for the flavors to incorporate.
- Arrange half of the eggplant slices on the bottom of a 9" x 9" baking dish. Top with half of the lentil mixture, followed by the remaining eggplant slices and lentils. Spoon the mashed potatoes on top, evening them out with a spoon into a smooth layer. Brush more olive oil/ghee over the potato layer and place the dish in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with the pine nuts and herbs, if using, and serve.