The first time I had moussaka was back in February, when I made the recipe from the Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook. That recipe didn’t really wow me, being just a simple eggplant and tomato casserole with simple spices covered in a soy milk sauce. However, I had hope that future experiments would yield a more exciting vegetarian moussaka. Obviously, I didn’t think about trying it again for quite a while… Until the DH suddenly made a request for more hearty “European style” family meals. Ok, moussaka being Greek would be better characterized as Mediterranean than European, but it is certainly a hearty family dish.
But what is Moussaka, anyway? According to my friend Wikipedia:
“Moussaka is a traditional eggplant-based dish in the Balkans and the Middle East, but most closely associated with Greece and Turkey. The Greek version, which is the best-known outside the region, traditionally consists of layers of ground meat, sliced eggplant and tomato, topped with a white sauce and baked. Turkish musakka, unlike the Greek version, is not layered. Instead, it is prepared with sautÃ©ed and fried eggplants, green peppers, tomatoes, onions, and minced meat. In the Arab world, moussaka is a cooked salad made up primarily of tomatoes and eggplant, similar to Italian caponata, and is usually served cold as a mezze dish. ” (source: Wikipedia Moussaka Entry)
Those all sound lovely, except for the whole meat and (probable) gluten thing. I decided that instead of ignoring the usual “meaty” element of moussaka, I would replace it with a vegetarian substitute. I considered using Trader Joe’s Soy Vegetarian Chorizo, but I found myself shopping at Whole Foods instead of Trader Joe’s this week, and I was unexpectedly inspired by the tempeh. Turtle Island Home-Style Soy Tempeh is labeled gluten-free, and I thought that the grainy texture of the fermented soy would work beautifully for replicating a “meaty” texture in moussaka. I found inspiration from the Vegan Coach blog’s Tempeh Sausage Recipe, but the resulting recipe was mine, all mine.
Happily, the DH thoroughly enjoyed the Moussaka, gobbling it up with some jasmine rice and a salad with kalamata olives and a light italian vinaigrette dressing. I was at last satisfied- and felt like I had truly made a “real” complex and tasty moussaka that could compete with its less vegetarian friendly cousin. And happily, I had come up with a way of preparing tempeh that even the tempeh-skeptical DH could thoroughly enjoy. We both gave the recipe a nine out of ten on the yum scale, and I will definitely be making this recipe again.
Perfect Gluten-Free Vegetarian Moussaka Recipe
Tempeh “ground style”:
1 8 oz. Gluten-Free Tempeh
1 cup vegetarian broth
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
poultry seasoning to taste
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 sprig fresh rosemary diced
1 sprig fresh thyme, diced
2 cups button or crimini mushrooms, diced
1/2 cup pecans chopped
2 Tbsp. GF Bragg’s Liquid Aminos or other GF WF Tamari
smoked paprika, to taste
Basic White Sauce:
3 tbsp butter OR vegan margarine (Earth Balance)
3 tbsps. brown rice flour
2 cups milk- dairy OR vegan: soy milk etc.
1/8 tsp. grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
2 medium eggplant
Pasta seasoning blend (like Trader Joe’s with fennel)
1 large onion, chopped
1 or 2 garlic cloves, pressed
Tempeh “ground” (recipe above)
1 cup chopped, canned tomatoes
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 tbsp. tomato paste
2 cups white sauce (recipe above, dairy or vegan version)
Option A: 1 egg yolk OR Option B: 1 egg replacer “egg” recipe AND 1 1/2 tsp. mustard OR 1 tbsp. nutritional yeast OR 1 tsp. turmeric.
To prepare tempeh, slice the tempeh in half horizontally and bring one cup vegetarian broth (from bullion is fine)to a boil in a small saucepan. Immerse the tempeh in the broth and turn down heat to low. Cover and simmer for fifteen minutes or more. Remove tempeh from the pan and place in a medium bowl. Mash with a potato masher until you have a nice crumbly texture. Heat olive oil in a nonstick fry pan or cast iron pan and then add your mashed tempeh, distributing it evenly in the pan. Season with spices. Let tempeh brown and then turn. Add mushrooms to the empty edges of the pan and let begin to brown, eventually stirring into the tempeh. Add pecans to the edge of the pan again, letting toast, and then stir into the rest of the ingredients. Add your tamari evenly to the dish and mix again. Sprinkle with smoked paprika. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Make sure the tempeh has browned thoroughly before you remove from pan and reserve.
Prepare eggplant for Moussaka by slicing into rounds. Sprinkle pasta seasoning blend in a small measuring bowl (really, really small) and add olive oil and salt. whisk ingredients together and then baste eggplant rounds with seasoned olive oil on both sides. Place on baking dish (like a cookie sheet) and broil until browned. Turn and broil the other side until golden brown. Remove from oven and reserve.
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Take your nonstick pan and heat a little more olive oil. Add your onion and let it begin to turn translucent. Add your pressed garlic cloves and begin to cook. Add the prepared tempeh “ground” that you made, above. Combine and let flavors marry and heat. Add tomatoes, oregano, and tomato paste. Taste and season with any additional salt or pepper if needed. Cook for a few more minutes. When it has approached sufficient yumminess, remove from heat and reserve.
For white sauce:
Take a medium, heavy bottomed saucepan and heat your butter or vegan margarine over a medium-high heat. When it has melted, remove from heat and whisk in your brown rice flour until you have a thick, creamy roux. Still OFF THE HEAT, slowly add in 1/4 cup milk (dairy or non-dairy), and whisk until you have a smooth sauce. Add the rest of your milk, whisk, and then return to the burner on medium-high heat. When it starts to thicken and bubble, lower heat, whisking occasionally, and let continue to thicken to desired texture. Take off burner and whisk in either either your egg yolk OR egg replacer + yellow condiment.
Assemble Moussaka immediately!
Take a pretty casserole dish and layer starting from tempeh “ground” to your seasoned broiled eggplant, repeating until you end with the eggplant slices. Pour white sauce over the top eggplant in a thick, even layer.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, rotating halfway through so that it is evenly browned. Remove from oven, let cool slightly, and serve hot.
DH could tell it contained tempeh, but still loved it. A first for him! An easy 9/10 for both of us. A little time intensive, but the best moussaka I’ve had- when I made it before from a recipe, I found it bland. This was so flavorful!