Certain cuisines are very close to my heart and that includes mediterranean food. If you are a vegetarian, you know how exciting it is to find cuisines that offer you a variety of options!Simple dishes that make use of fresh produce and herbs…mmm excuse me while I go salivate . I was at a Greek restaurant a couple of years ago for lunch and found moussaka on the menu. I was excited to try it but found it was almost entirely made up of eggplants! What is the problem you ask? well I am not the greatest fan of eggplant and did not really get to enjoy the dish as much as I would have liked. I have been wanting to try make a non-eggplant version of vegan moussaka ever since and finally got around to it.
I decided to try it with a vegetable I am new to – Celeriac. Its a type of celery but a variety that is actually harvested for its root. It has definitely has a more intense and nutty flavor as compared to celery. Also its not the most fashionable looking veggie and is quite gnarly looking. However don’t let it’s looks fool ya because this vegetable is amazing in savory dishes. I have only had luck finding it in Whole Foods till now.If you do find it, I hope you give it a try. I decided to combine celeriac with sliced potatoes and it turned out amazing. Add perfectly spiced cooked lentils, a creamy vegan béchamel to the mix and I swear this one will knock your socks off!
Moussaka is a basically a sort of lasagna but the noodles are replaced with veggies and contains a meat based filling along with cheese based topping. However it is easily veganized by replacing the meat sauce with a lentil ragu. Also the cheese filled topping is replaced with a creamy cashew based béchamel. It is also peppered with fresh and dried herbs.
Now I will be honest and tell you this vegan moussaka is not a quick dish that you would want to whip up on a weeknight. Not that you can’t but it is time consuming. I would suggest you give this a try during the weekend or when you have some time on hand. However I promise, it is completely worth spending all that time in the kitchen for this delish dinner. If you do want to make this ahead, I suggest preparing the dish minus the béchamel and freezing it. You can top it with the béchamel and finish cooking a couple of hours before serving.
Ingredients for the vegan moussaka
This vegan moussaka can basically be broken down in to 3 different parts. I have listed the most important ingredients below.
Vegetables – I have used potatoes and celeriac. Feel free to sub with eggplants, zucchini, turnips, rutabaga or even beets! The flavor will vary according to the vegetables used but basically any vegetable that is robust and can withstand being layered and cooked will work.
- Large russet potatoes
- Salt and pepper to taste
Lentil Ragu – This is the heart of the dish IMO. The lentils soak in the spices and really brings this moussaka to life.
- Cooked Puy/black lentils
- Vegetables including tomatoes, bell pepper, onion and garlic
- Spices including Cumin, paprika, cinnamon
- Dried oregano , thyme and bay leaves
- Tomato paste
- Coconut aminos
- Veggie stock
Bechamel – Dairy in the traditional béchamel is replaced by creamy cashews along with aromatics
- Soaked cashews
- Nutritional Yeast
- Olive oil
Overview of the process
The optimal way to get this dish going or any dish in fact is to have all the ingredients ready to go or as the French say mis en place. Soak the cashews overnight or in hot water for 4-5 hours. If you miss doing this, another quick way to prepare the cashews is to boil in water for 25-30 mins until they soften.
Prepare and slice the potatoes and celeriac. Finely chop the vegetables required for the ragu at the same time. Place the celeriac and potatoes on a sheet pan. Season with salt, pepper, drizzle of olive oil and bits of garlic. Roast this for 400 deg F for 7-8 minutes. Depending on how much vegetables you have, you might need to spread this across multiple sheet pans. Don’t overcook these as they will be back in the oven again in the final assembled dish.
While the vegetables are being oven roasted, heat olive oil in a large sized pan. Throw in the bay leaf and thyme leaves and saute for a few minutes before adding the vegetables. Then add the lentils, spices, dried oregano, tomato paste and mix well. Add the veggie stock to deglaze and make the ragu creamy. Else it will turn dry.
Now its time to prepare the béchamel. Add the soaked cashews while reserving the soaked liquid to a blender. To this, add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth and there are no cashew ‘bits’. Include some of the reserved liquid while blending to reach a thick creamy consistency. Keep this aside and covered until you are ready to use it.
Assembling the moussaka
I used a 12 in x 9 in baking dish for assembling the dish. Grease the insides of the pan with some olive oil to ensure the base layer does not stick or burn. Start by assembling the roasted vegetables. Once the first layer is complete, top with the ragu mixture until the base layer is fully covered. Repeat this with the rest of the vegetables and the ragu mixture. I was able to do 3 layers each of the vegetables and ragu. Finally top it with a thick layer of the béchamel sauce. Place the baking dish in the oven heated to 325 deg F for 30 mins. If the top starts to brown quickly, cover with aluminum foil while baking.
Let the dish rest for an hour or so after cooking to ensure all the layers set. Top with fresh/dried herbs, black pepper and paprika before serving.
Vegan Moussaka with Celeriac and Potatoes
For Roasted Vegetables
- 1 Celeriac large peeled and sliced
- 4 Russet Potatoes peeled and sliced
- 4 Garlic cloves thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp Olive Oil
- Salt and Pepper to season the vegetables
For Lentil Ragu
- 2 1/2 cup Black/puy lentils cooked
- 4 Tomatoes finely chopped
- 1 Bell Pepper seeded and finely chopped
- 1 Onion large finely chopped
- 4 Garlic cloves finely chopped
- 2 tbsp Powdered Cumin
- 1 tbsp Paprika
- 1 tbsp Dried Oregano
- 2-3 Thyme sprigs
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 1 tbsp Powdered Cinnamon
- 3 tbsp Tomato Paste
- 2 tbsp Coconut Aminos
- 1/2 cup Veggie Stock
- 1 tbsp Olive Oil
- Salt and Pepper to taste
For Bechamel Sauce
- 1 1/2 cup Raw cashews soaked overnight or in hot water for 4 hours
- 2 Garlic cloves peeled
- 1/4 cup Nutritional Yeast
- 1 tsp Powdered Nutmeg
- 1 tbsp Olive Oil
- 1 cup Water
- 1/2 tsp Powdered Black Pepper
- 1 tsp Salt adjust according to taste
For the Roasted Vegetables
- Soak the cashews overnight or in hot water for 4 hours. The cashews will almost double in size after being soaked.
- Preheat the oven to 400 F. Placed the celeriac and potatoes on one or more sheet pans. There should be no crowding to ensure they are cooked evenly. Use a pastry brush to brush the olive oil over the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper and top with the sliced garlic.
- Roast the vegetables for 7-8 minutes and keep aside to cool.
For Lentil Ragu
- Heat a wide and deep pan. Add the olive oil. Once it is hot, toss in the bay leaves and thyme sprig.
- After a couple of minutes, add the onions and garlic. Let it cook for 5 minutes. Now add the bell pepper and tomatoes. Cook for another 5 minutes.
- Season with salt and pepper. Add the oregano, cumin, paprika and cinnamon. Mix well.
- Now add the lentils and mix in the tomato paste. After a couple of minutes mix in the coconut aminos.
- Slowly add in the vegetable broth and mix well. Let the mixture cook for 3-4 minutes and turn off the heat.
For Bechamel Sauce
- Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend till it is a smooth mixture. Keep closed until the dish is ready to be assembled.
- Preheat the oven to 325 F. Grease a 12 in x 9 in baking dish. Layer the bottom with the roasted vegetables. Top this with a layer of the lentil ragu.
- Repeat the above step two more times which will result in a total of alternating layers of the vegetables and ragu. Top this layer with a thick layer of the bechamel sauce.
- Bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove and let it cool before serving.
- Tip: If you have extra béchamel sauce leftover, it works great as a vegan white pasta sauce.
- Feel free to sub the vegetables with eggplant, zucchini, turnip, rutabaga or sweet potatoes. The flavor might vary depending on the vegetable(s) used.
- The number of layers in the final dish will depend on the size of the pan used along with the thickness of the layers. The quantity listed in the recipe should be enough to make up 6 layers in the 9×12 pan.
- If you decide to make this ahead of time, prepare the dish minus the béchamel. Assemble and freeze it. Put it in the fridge the night before to thaw and top with the béchamel before cooking.