As the granddaughter of a Cypriot immigrant, I know my claim to have made the ‘ultimate’ moussaka is indeed a bold one. My grandfather would laugh in my face at the very notion of this vegan offering being considered anything close to the original, but, being a former chef himself (he once had a restaurant called the BellaPais in Southend, before moving on to greasy spoon fry-ups at his humble guest house), his laughter would surely dissipate into an appreciative growl once he got this past his guffaws. I have long feared making moussaka, worrying it would not pass muster with my Greek bones, but tonight, I think I have cracked it. Gone are the eggs that would normally bolster the white sauce, replaced instead with unctuous cashew milk and a smattering of mustard for richness. The lamb becomes lentils, a sort of poundshop reverse Jesus trick, and the whole thing luxuriates, dense yet sloppy, earthy yet bright, wholesome yet decadent, and 31p per portion.
Serves 8 generously – leftovers can be frozen in individual portions for easy ready meals and reheated for 45 minutes at 180C from frozen, or 25 minutes if defrosted.
250g dried green or brown lentils, 57p (£1.15/500g, Sainsburys)
2 small onions, 12p (90p/1,5kg, Sainsburys Basics)
6 fat cloves of garlic, 9p (35p/2 bulbs, Sainsburys Basics)
2 tbsp oil, 3p (£3/3l, vegetable or sunflower oil, Sainsburys)
400g chopped tomatoes, 35p (35p/400g, Sainsburys Basics)
50ml red wine, 23p (£3.50/750ml, Basic table wine)
1 tsp dried thyme or other herbs, <1p (80p/100g thyme, Natco brand)
¼ tsp each salt and pepper, <1p
1 tsp lemon juice or red wine vinegar, 1p (£1.15/500ml, Sainsburys RWV)
1 large aubergine, 75p (75p each, Sainsburys)
1 slice bread, grated into breadcrumbs*, 2p (45p/22 slice loaf, Sainsburys Basics) – to make gluten free, simply omit these or use your favourite gluten free bread or breadcrumb mix
For the white sauce:
1 tbsp flour*, <1p (55p/1.5kg plain flour, Sainsburys Basics) – to make this gluten free, substitite with your preferred gluten free flour and make as per instructions
1 tbsp oil, 2p (£3/3l vegetable or sunflower oil, Sainsburys)
250ml cashew or soya milk, 25p (25p/1l, Sainsburys)
½ tsp mustard, <1p (45p/180g, Sainsburys Basics mustard)
First thoroughly rinse the lentils, then tip into a saucepan that will take double their weight, and cover them with water. Do not add salt as the skins may seize, harden and never quite cook; a rookie mistake, and an infuriating one. Bring them to the boil, then reduce to a simmer, while you make the accompanying sauce.
Peel and finely chop the onion and garlic, and pop into a large pan with the oil. Cook on a medium heat for a few minutes to soften, then tip in the tomatoes, wine, lemon, herbs, salt and pepper. Fill a mug with water and pop it on the side. Bring it to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. You might ask, why not put the lentils and sauce in the same pot? Pulses tend to give off a greyish ‘scum’ as they cook, which rises to the top of the pan, rather like the foam at the edges of the sea, but not quite as romantically evocative. I cook them separately to skim this off, or rinse it thoroughly at the end, simpler to do from a separate pan than to pan through the sauce hoping to catch it all.
After 20 minutes, drain and thoroughly rinse the lentils – and I mean thoroughly – and tip them into the sauce pan to continue to cook. Give the lentil pan a quick rinse, and use it to make your white sauce.
Measure the flour and oil into the pan, and beat together over a low heat to form a paste. Add a splash of milk, and beat together quickly to incorporate it. Add another splash, and repeat, until you have a loose, runny mixture with no lumps. If the odd lump does occur, you can sieve it out with a sieve or tea strainer, but if you don’t rush it, they shouldn’t be a problem. Bring the heat up to medium, and as your sauce starts to thicken, add a little more milk, until it is all gone. Remove the heat and allow it to stand to one side.
Check your lentil mixture – you may need to add a little of that mug of water if it starts to look a bit thick. Your ideal texture is loose and sloppy but not too wet; the lentils will carry on absorbing liquid for a while yet. After the sauce – now including the lentils – has been cooking for around 40 minutes (20 pre-lentils, 20 after), remove it from the heat and stand it to one side with the white sauce. Turn your oven on to 180C, and grab an ovenproof dish.
Spoon in a layer of lentil mixture to cover the base of the dish. Very finely slice your aubergine, until it is almost translucent (if you are a fan of thicker slices, you may need two, or to ration your layers!) Lay the aubergine over the lentil mixture. Spread the white sauce on top, using the back of a spoon to coat the aubergine slices. Repeat; lentils, aubergine, sauce, two or three times. Your top layer should be a layer of white sauce. Top with breadcrumbs, if using, them place in the oven for 40 minutes to bake, until golden.
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