This week, I want to embrace the colourful, exciting, wonderful world of vegetables. I want to show you that by making veg the hero, you can create meals that are just as tasty (if not more so!) than their meaty rivals. In fact, I'm a strong believer in having at least two meat-free days a week – it will save you money and helps to relieve the increasing pressure on meat farming. And, frankly, vegetables are bloody delicious.
Now, I know we all love a good roast or slow-cooked meat stew on a Sunday and I'm absolutely not saying we should compromise on that all the time, but sometimes it's nice to mix up our weekend crowd-pleasers with intensely flavoured, satisfying and indulgent meals that just happen to be meat-free, too. This week, I want to show you how to do exactly that with my amazing veggie moussaka – this classic Greek beauty is traditionally a meat dish, but with lots of veg, chickpeas and lentils you still achieve great taste and texture. Finish it with a crumbling of feta and pecorino or kefalotiri (a hard sheep's cheese you can find at some delis). I challenge you not to love this.
We all want hearty, filling meals at this time of year, much like this moussaka. To help you do that at the end of a long day, try and buy in bulk hardy, winter veg when you see a good offer – potatoes, squash and raw beets can all last a long time if stored properly, and can quickly and easily be transformed into a satisfying veggie curry, soup or chili. So even when your automatic response is to reach for the meat, try celebrating beautiful veggies, just to remind yourself how great meat-free meals can be. Enjoy!
Servings: 6 to 8
4 cloves garlic
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary
A few sprigs of fresh sage
3 teaspoons dried oregano
1 cup red wine
1 15 ounce (425 gram) can chickpeas
3½ ounces (100 grams) dried brown lentils
1 28 ounce (796 ml) can plum tomatoes
4 fresh bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
4 medium potatoes
1 litre 2 per cent milk
¹/³ cup unsalted butter
²/³ cup all-purpose flour
2 large free-range egg yolks
2 ounces feta cheese
2 ounces kefalotiri or pecorino cheese
Peel and finely chop the garlic and onions, then place in a large pan over medium heat with a drizzle of oil. Pick in the rosemary and sage leaves, add 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, then sauté for about 10 minutes, or until softened but not coloured, stirring occasionally.
Pour in the wine and simmer until it’s all absorbed. Add the chickpeas (juices and all), lentils, canned tomatoes and 2 of the bay leaves, breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Fill the tomato can with water and pour into the pan.
Season with sea salt and black pepper, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for 1 hour, or until you have a thick, delicious ragù.
Preheat the oven to 350 F, and bring a large pan of salted water to the boil.
Cut the eggplants into 1-inch thick slices, then place in a colander. Evenly sprinkle with salt and leave in the sink for 10 minutes.
Peel and cut the potatoes to the same thickness as the eggplants, parboil for 3 to 4 minutes, then drain and steam dry.
Transfer the potatoes to the oven dish you’re going to cook your moussaka in (roughly 10 x 14 inches). Season lightly, drizzle with oil, scatter over 1 teaspoon of oregano and toss to combine.
Wipe the salt off the eggplants with paper towel, then arrange on baking sheets. Drizzle with oil and season with pepper and the remaining oregano.
Bake both the potatoes and eggplants for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the potatoes are lightly roasted, turning halfway.
Warm the milk in a medium pan with the remaining bay leaves and the peppercorns over a medium-low heat, until hot, but not boiling. Strain into a jug.
Wipe out the pan and place back on the heat. Make a béchamel sauce by melting the butter and stirring in the flour. Cook for 1 minute until you have a thick paste with no colour. Whisk in a little of the milk, then keep pouring and whisking until all the milk is incorporated. Gently cook the sauce, still whisking, until it’s thickened and coats the back of a spoon. Leave to cool a little.
When the potatoes, eggplant and ragù are ready, start putting together your moussaka. Spread half of the ragù over the potatoes, then cover with a layer of half the eggplants. Repeat with the remaining ragù and eggplants.
Whisk the egg yolks into the béchamel, then pour over the eggplants, so it covers the dish evenly. Crumble over the feta and grate over the kefalotiri or pecorino.
Drizzle over some oil and bake in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden. Set aside for 30 minutes, then serve.