Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Vegan Moussaka

Last week I had a serious craving for moussaka, one that needed to be satisfied immediately. While I've had the dish several times I'd never made it before so, full of hope, I consulted one of my first and favorite vegan cookbooks -- Veganomicon. For me, Veganomicon is to food what Zara is to clothing, a resource I can count on to never disappoint. Sure enough, I found a vegan moussaka recipe, one that promised deliciousness no less. And deliciousness is exactly what it delivered.

If you love eggplant, zucchini and potatoes as much as I do you absolutely have to (I put that in italics, people, which I save only for special occasions) give this moussaka a try. The preparation is a bit laborious (bear with me) but please don't be instantly put off. I promise it's not as bad as it initially seems if you make some components of the dish while others are cooking largely unattended. Also, I know the idea of having the oven on for over an hour at this time of year makes some of you break out in hives, but just trust that this is worth cranking up the AC for or just wiping the sweat of your brow.

Vegan Moussaka with Macadamia Nut Cream
Adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terri Hope Romero's Veganomicon
Makes about 6 servings

Vegetable Layers 
  • 1 lb / 455 g eggplant
  • 1 lb / 455 g zucchini
  • 1 3/4 lbs / 795 g russet potatoes (another variety will do too)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
Tomato Sauce
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup vegetable broth or red wine
  • 1 28 oz / 795 g can diced or crushed tomatoes and their juice
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Macadamia Nut Cream
  • 1/2 cup macadamia nuts, preferably soaked for at least 8 hours (the original recipe called for pine nuts, which are much more expensive, but you can use those, without soaking, if you'd like)
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 lb / 455 g lite silken tofu (regular silken tofu is fine)
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch or arrowroot powder
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1.  Preheat the oven to 400 F / 205 C. Either wash and scrub your eggplant, zucchini and potatoes or peel them (I decided to leave the skins on). Cut the vegetables lengthwise into 1/4 inch / 3/4 cm slices. Place each vegetable on a separate baking sheet with as little overlap as possible, drizzle them with the olive oil and sprinkle them with the salt. Bake the eggplant and the zucchini for 15 minutes or until tender, and the potatoes for 20 minutes or until brown around the edges. If you don't have three baking sheets, or three racks in your oven (I have two of each) bake the vegetables in batches. I baked the zucchini and the eggplant first, then the potatoes. Once the zucchini are cool enough to handle, grab a bunch of slices and gently squeeze out as much of their moisture as possible. This will prevent your moussaka from being too watery.

2.  While the vegetables are roasting, make your sauce. Heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallots, sautéing for about 4-5 minutes or until the shallots are tender and the garlic is fragrant. Pour in the vegetable broth or wine and cook until reduced by about half, which should take about another 5-7 minutes. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and simmer partially covered for about 10 minutes. Take the cover off and simmer for another 5 minutes.

3.  While your sauce is cooking, make the macadamia nut cream. Toss the macadamia nuts and the lemon juice into the food processor and pulse repeatedly, scrapping down the edges if necessary, until pulverized. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until completely smooth.

4.  To assemble the casserole, first place about 1/2 cup sauce in the bottom of a 9 by 13 inch / 23 by 33 cm pan. Arrange a layer of eggplant on top of the sauce, then a layer of potatoes, followed by a layer sauce and half of the breadcrumbs. Place all the zucchini on top of the breadcrumbs in a single layer and follow with single layers of eggplant, potatoes, sauce and bread crumbs. Pour the macadamia nut cream on top of the moussaka and smooth it out using a spatula. Bake the casserole in for 35 to 40 minutes or until the top starts to brown and crack. Let sit for about 10 minutes before slicing. 

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