There were still six eggplants (aubergines) in my fridge. Out of the twelve imperfect, deep purple and glossy eggplants that I bought last week, I used four in a smoky babaganoush, one in an quickly assembled vegetable pasta and one in this fresh zucchini, broad bean, mint and goats cheese salad. I was feeling eggplanted out… what to do with the remaining ones?
Eggplants are one of those vegetables which people either love or hate. I’m an eggplant lover. They are, however, not a superfood, and have a fairly low nutritional value. Most of this value comes from the fibre within the eggplant’s meaty flesh, although the vibrant purple skin contains some essential phytonutrients. Eggplants are low in fat but contain a lot of carbohydrates, which is why I love them – their cooked creamy interior is the ideal vessel for soaking up flavour.
I deliberated over making this delicious looking curried roasted eggplant with cardamom and coconut milk, Mark Bittman’s eggplant salad with a mustard-miso dressing or (for quirky marks) this burnt eggplant and mograbieh soup (Ottolenghi of course), but finally settled on doing a remake of the Greek classic, moussaka.
Moussaka is traditionally made with minced meat, onion, tomatoes and spices with a béchamel sauce, in between lawyers of sautéed eggplant. The traditional version reminds me of a Greek-style lasagna, and as my lentil bolognaise recipe was in the front of my mind this week after being mentioned as one of Hey Tucker’s top three bolognaise sauces (woo hoo!), I decided to go down that route. I replaced the meat layer with the lentil bolognaise, and changed the flavours by substituting fennel for the rosemary. To freshen up the mix, I used ricotta instead of the heavy béchamel sauce, and sprinkled in some dill and preserved lemon. And of course, the hero of the dish, eggplant – lightly grilled instead of being sautéed in buckets of oil. I don’t bother salting the eggplant, because I don’t find you need to with most eggplants in Australia, but you can do so if there are a lot of seeds in the eggplants. This recipe serves 4 hungry adults.
- Ingredients from the lentil bolognaise recipe (minus the rosemary and basil)
- 1 tablespoon of fennel seeds
- 2 large eggplants (or 2-3 medium eggplants), sliced lengthways into 0.5cm pieces
- 1 zucchini, sliced lengthways into 0.5cm pieces
- 250g smooth ricotta
- 2 quarters of preserved lemon, finely chopped
- Half a bunch of fresh dill, finely chopped
- 100g parmesan, grated
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Olive oil, for cooking
- Prepare the lentil bolognaise by following this recipe, but substituting the rosemary with fennel seeds.
- While the lentil bolognaise is simmering (step 4), prepare the eggplants and zucchini. Put a cast iron ridged grill pan over medium heat, splash in a little olive oil and then add the eggplant and zucchini (in batches). Lightly grill the vegetables until they are just cooked, turning them a couple of times and adding a splash of water if they start to stick too much. If you don’t have a grill pan, you can use a barbecue or the oven grill. Remove from the grill and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 180C.
- Assemble the moussaka – first spoon the lentil bolognaise onto the base of a large baking tray, then add a layer of eggplant. Follow with another layer of lentil bolognaise, then smear a spoon of ricotta across the bolognaise and then the layer of zucchini, followed by another smear of ricotta. Sprinkle the dill and preserved lemon over the zucchini-ricotta layer, season to taste and then add a layer of eggplant. Repeat with another layer of lentil bolognaise and eggplant until the tray is full – you don’t need to add ricotta on each layer. Finish off the layering with a last smear of ricotta and then sprinkle over the grated parmesan.
- Put the moussaka into the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes until the top is golden brown and bubbly and the eggplant is soft and creamy. You may need to cover the moussaka with aluminium foil if it browns too quickly. Remove from the oven, let rest for 10 minutes and serve with a green salad.