'You should eat it with yogurt, and bread’ were my grandparents' words as they served up the moussaka they often made when we kids came to stay. There was something irresistible about the tender potatoes and savoury mince in this dish, and perched on the kitchen worktop I'd watch my grandfather layer them together as he explained what he was doing. Since those days I've veganised many childhood favourites and moussaka is one of the dishes I’ve cooked the most.
Moussaka needs some preparation but it's so worth it! It's perfect for a gathering with friends and even tastier the next day, hot or cold. The magic that makes it so close to its original is the combination of quinoa, red wine, dry mint and star mild Mexican chillies. The chillies add a rich, smoky depth of flavour but no heat. In the UK, you can get a range from London-based Cool Chile Company or from Spice Mountain. Luckily, the recipe is delicious without as well if you can’t find this type of chilli!
With my grandparents' words in mind I created an almond and cucumber taratór – a variation of tsatsiki, with added walnuts, that adds a sweet creamy freshness to this dish. The moussaka is also delicious with a generous dollop of plain greek yogurt! As for the bread, you will have to decide for yourself. My partner A likes his with a slab of sourdough and I like mine just as it is!
If you find slicing and layering the ingredients too time-consuming you can borrow my grandfather's everyday trick: simply cut the potatoes and courgettes into small batons (like half a chunky potato chip), pre-boil them just as in the original recipe but instead of making several layers, just place all the potatoes in the bottom of your dish, layer the quinoa sauce on top and finish with courgettes and a drizzle of olive oil.
My grandfather would top his moussaka off with an egg mixture, similar to quiche. Other recipes call for béchamel or cheese. Being a spoilt little imp, I always tried to scrape this layer off .. so I've simply left it out in this recipe. I could imagine cashew 'cream cheese' would be delicious on top though!
Veganised Moussaka for my Grandparents
6 generous portions
Prep time 45 minutes
Cooking time 45 minutes + 15 minutes on afterheat
800 g potatoes, peeled, sliced in 5 mm slices
1 large (ca 350 g) courgette, sliced in 5 mm slices
Optional: A few large kale leaves, stems removed
Optional: A handful of french beans, trimmed
Extra virgin olive oil for assembly
For the quinoa sauce:
200 ml (150 g) quinoa*
1 large (7-10 g) dried mild Mexican chilli: Ancho, Mulato, New Mexico Red, or any other mild variety. Heat scale 3/10
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, sliced thinly
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper (bell pepper, capsicum), cut in small cubes, 5 mm
450 ml (500g) tomato passata
300 ml red wine
100 ml water
1 tablespoon mild paprika powder
2 teaspoons dried mint
3 teaspoons coconut palm sugar (or normal sugar)
2 teaspoons rock salt
3 tablespoons tomato purée
1 small bunch (15 g) parsley, stems included, finely chopped
Black pepper to taste
Optional: 1 teaspoon chilli flakes. The Mexican chillies give no noticeable heat, so add this if you like a little kick
*The quinoa can be substituted with 150 ml (120 g) red split lentils. Use exactly as the quinoa in the recipe.
For the topping:
Optional decorations: Halved cherry tomatoes, red onion sliced in rounds
50 ml (60g) almonds, finely chopped together with 1/2 clove garlic, a generous pinch of salt and black pepper to taste
- Wash and cook the quinoa in plenty of water for 8 minutes. Leave to drain in a colander.
- Peel and slice the potatoes, slice the courgette.
- Immerse the potato slices in a large pot of boiling water, and let cook for 8 minutes or until they are soft but still holding together. Drain and rinse in cold water to cool.
- Open up the Mexican chilli, remove stem and seeds. Roast in a dry pan for a minute until fragrant, and blisters start to appear. Cover in just boiled water and soak 5-10 minutes. Purée, using the soaking water.
- Add the olive oil to a large frying pan and fry the onion, garlic and red pepper on medium heat, until the onions start browning at the edges.
- Add the quinoa, chilli purée, passata, and all remaining sauce ingredients to the pan and let simmer while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- Pre-heat the oven to 190ºC.
- If using kale, wash and remove stems and immerse the leaves in just boiled water for a few minutes to reduce their volume. Rinse in cold water to cool, squeeze excess water out and roughly chop.
- If using french beans, simply wash and trim.
- Gather your ingredients together. In a large oven dish (I use a 30 x 23 cm dish), start by drizzling a little olive oil on the bottom surface.
- Layer your ingredients. Start with a layer of potato slices, not overlapping each other too much, another drizzle of olive oil, a thin layer of quinoa sauce, a layer of courgette slices, drizzle olive oil, quinoa sauce, potatoes, olive oil .. you get the idea. Sneak the kale and beans in somewhere if using. Occasionally press down on the layers with your hands or a big spoon to compress.
- Final layer should be the last quinoa sauce plus any leftover potato and courgette slices. Arrange these in a pattern on top, adding onion slices and halved cherry tomatoes if desired.
- Cook for 45 minutes. In the last 5 minutes, scatter the chopped almonds over the moussaka.
- Turn the oven off and let rest on afterheat for 15 minutes.
- Let cool slightly before serving with almond taratór or any other yogurt of your choice.
Almond Taratór for my Grandparents
Can be made a day ahead and rest in the fridge. Lasts up to three days.
150 ml (180g) almonds soaked overnight, then covered in boiling water for 10 minutes and peeled*
50 ml water
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 clove garlic
1/2 tsp sea salt
Juice of 1/2 lime + more to adjust the flavour at the end
1/3 cucumber, peeled, sliced lengthwise and seeds removed with a small spoon or melon baller, then julienned or cut in very small cubes
A big handful fresh mint, washed, picked and finely chopped. The chopped mint should come to about 2 tablespoons.
Crushed black pepper to taste
A few walnuts to garnish
*For a speedy version, cover the almonds in boiling water and soak for an hour. Scald them again in hot water and peel.
You need a stand-up blender with a small jug for this recipe, or a food processor with a small mixing bowl. The almonds will not become smooth enough with a hand blender.
- Add peeled almonds, water, olive oil, salt and lime juice to the mixer jug.
- Blend on low speed for a long time, minimum 10 minutes to get a very smooth, white, ricotta-like cream.
- Transfer to a bowl and fold in cucumber, mint and black pepper.
- Let rest in the fridge for at least half an hour, longer if possible.
- Taste test and add more lime juice, salt or pepper before serving if desired. Serve chilled with a few walnuts scattered on top.