Monday, June 14, 2010

Lentil and zucchini moussaka

I made this one on Sunday because, once again, I got a ton of yellow squash and zucchini in my Pinckney's stash. Hopefully I won't run out of ideas for them before my summer subscription ends.

As it happened, I also had a couple of mild banana peppers (also from Pinckney's) and a bag of lentils and a 28 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes that weren't earmarked for anything. Since I had all this squash, the pantry items and no ground meat on hand with which to make a normal moussaka, I figured I could just cook a cup of lentils and add them to the tomato sauce as a meat substitute that would keep all the layers thick enough to remain distinct in the oven. So, here's the recipe:

4 yellow squash, halved lengthwise
2 zucchini, halved lengthwise
3 cups salted water
1 cup lentils, rinsed and sorted
2 tbsp olive oil
2 mild banana peppers, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp dried Italian herbs
fresh ground pepper
28 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes
3 tbsp Smart Balance
2 tbsp flour
1 cup milk
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste (white pepper's good if you have it)

Place the halved zucchini and yellow squash on a plate, skin-side down. Make cuts in each piece in a crosshatch pattern, salt generously and store in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Bring 3 cups of salted water to a boil. Add lentils, stir and simmer, covered, until lentils are very tender, about 30 minutes.

In a separate saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add banana peppers, garlic, pepper and Italian herbs and saute until peppers have softened, about 5 minutes. Chop the canned tomatoes by running a long, sharp knife through them, then add (with juices) to the peppers, stir well and simmer uncovered (a splatter guard's a good idea) until sauce is very thick, about 30-45 minutes. Check seasoning and add salt if needed (mine didn't need any). Add the cooked lentils to the tomato sauce and stir until blended.

While the tomato sauce is cooking, heat Smart Balance in another saucepan until melted. Add flour and stir well; do not allow to brown. Stir in the milk slowly, taking care to prevent lumps from forming. Add pepper and simmer, stirring often, until sauce has thickened. Stir in Parmesan cheese, check seasoning and add salt if needed.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove zucchini and squash from refrigerator, rinse and pat dry with paper towels. In the bottom of a bread loaf pan (mine are non-stick; if yours isn't, grease it first), arrange half of the zucchini and squash, skin-side down, so that as much of the base is covered as possible. Layer half of the lentils and tomato sauce mixture over the zucchini and squash. Repeat with the remaining zucchini/squash and lentil-tomato mixture. Add the cream sauce by pouring evenly over the top layer of lentils and tomatoes and smooth out carefully with a spoon so that this forms the top layer.

Bake in 350 degree oven for one hour, let cool and serve.

I made this three hours ahead of time, covered it in foil when it came out of the oven, and when we sat down to eat it was still warm and the (delicious!) sauce had permeated the zucchini and squash and also mingled somewhat with the cream sauce on top, which had still formed a crust as I'd hoped. The key, which I learned after several botched attempts at moussaka, is to make each of the sauces very thick so that it will hold its own as a layer after it goes in the oven.

This recipe is pretty much based on the one I've always used, which is in the "Grece" chapter of La cuisine autour de la mediterranee.* Vilma Liacouras Chantiles notes in The Food of Greece that, although we normally associate eggplant with moussaka, traditional Greek/Turkish moussaka can be made with whatever layered vegetables you want; the red and white sauces are the common denominator. I've also gotten excellent results using potatoes sliced about 1/4 inch thick, and I usually use ground turkey in the red sauce with a little salt, pepper and nutmeg. If you're planning ahead to make it this way, it pays to spice the ground meat beforehand. A 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes works just as well as the canned whole tomatoes, as would 5 or 6 very ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced. Also, when using meat, raise the temperature to at least 375 degrees, and the eggplant also might come out more tender after another 15 minutes or so at this temperature, or after 1 hour at 400 degrees.

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