A classic Greek moussaka is made with spiced lamb and sliced eggplant, but by substituting black lentils for the meat, you can make a wonderfully versatile vegetarian option. The lentils not only add texture, but they soak up thearomatics of the ginger, garlic, and nutmeg. I have added a few extra spices that also combine well with the earthy nature of the lentils.
1 to 2 tablespoons (15 to 30 ml) vegetable oil
1 stick of cassia bark
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, sliced
3 fresh tomatoes, chopped
1-inch (3 cm) piece of fresh ginger, grated
2 green chillies, chopped
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon chilli powder
2 teaspoons coriander seeds, crushed
3½ ounces (100 g) soaked
uncooked urad dhal (whole black lentils) or 14 ounces (400 g) precooked lentils
salt to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons (14 to 28 g) butter
1 teaspoon garam masala
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaf (kasoori methi)
handful of fresh coriander leaves, chopped
4 medium eggplants, sliced in 2-inch (5 cm) rings (you could use 2 eggplants and 2 potatoes)
2 tablespoons (30 ml) rapeseed oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed
TURMERIC BECHAMEL SAUCE
½ cup (120 g, or 1 stick) butter
1 cup (120 g) plain flour
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
4¼ cups (1 L) milk, warmed
¼ teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
2 large eggs
sliced red onions
sliced red chillies
Heat the oil in a pressure cooker (if using uncooked lentils), and add the cassia bark and cumin seeds. When the cumin seeds sizzle, add the chopped onions and garlic. On medium heat, fry until golden brown.
Stir in the chopped tomatoes, ginger, green chillies, turmeric, chilli powder, and crushed coriander seeds.
Stir in 31/2 ounces (100 g) of the soaked urad dhal (whole black lentils) and pour in 2 cups (500 ml) of water with a teaspoon of salt (or to taste).
Put the lid on and bring the temperature to high. Reduce the heat and simmer for 25 minutes. (If using cooked lentils, simmer until heated through.)
Turn the heat off and allow the pressure to subside. Remove the lid and stir. Test that the lentils are cooked through (they should be soft and squeeze between your fingers).
If the lentils are still watery, simmer and stir on a gentle heat until they thicken and start to get creamy.
Remove from the heat and take out the cassia bark. Stir in the butter, garam masala, nutmeg, and fenugreek leaf.
Stir in the fresh coriander leaves and set to one side.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C, or gas mark 4).
As the lentils are cooking, heat a griddle on high heat.
Mix the crushed cumin seeds with the oil. Drizzle over the eggplant slices and cook on the griddle until they begin to color and soften.
In a large saucepan, heat butter over medium-high heat until melted.
Stir in flour, turmeric, salt, and pepper. Cook until golden.
Gradually pour in the warmed milk, whisking continuously. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes.
Whisk the eggs and pour into the bechamel mixture while stirring.
Add the nutmeg.
Continue to stir and bring it to a gentle boil for 2 minutes. Taste and adjust the salt—it’s really important that the bechamel is well seasoned.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool and thicken a little more (you should have a heavy, creamy, thick, smooth bechamel sauce).
ASSEMBLE AND BAKE
Butter a casserole dish and place half the griddled eggplant in the bottom, top with half the lentil mixture, and smooth it out.
Layer the remaining griddled eggplant on top and add the remaining lentils.
Pour the bechamel sauce on top, smooth it out, and sprinkle over sliced red onions and red chillies (if using).
Place the moussaka on the middle rack of your heated oven. Bake for 45 minutes or until the top turns golden brown.
Remove from the heat and let sit for at least 20 minutes before cutting and serving.