Thursday, February 20, 2014

Vegetable moussaka with pine nut cream

February 17, 2014

I've had this recipe bookmarked since 2008: a time before I had my own copy of Veganomicon, the era of regular updates on Yeah, That "Vegan" Shit. Dairy substitutes were still a novelty to me, and I imagine that I was particularly taken by the pine-nut cream topping on this moussaka (it sure couldn't have been Lindy Loo's "worst picture ever" that lured me in, right?). 

I just never got around to making it until we found ourselves with five eggplants in the fridge this week. And then I decided to make it on a Monday night. Yep, I thought it'd be a good idea to thinly slice and pre-bake two and a half kilos of vegetables, make a sauce and a pine nut cream and layer it all up for a final bake, all after coming home from a full day at work. It. Took. Four. Hours.

Let's leave aside my questionable judgement for a moment, while I assure you that at least it was not a stressful four hours. There was no point at which I was wrangling three saucepans and a tray under the grill, burning one component while trying to blend another. Michael patiently sliced all the vegetables before I arrived home, then tagged me in for the bulk of the cooking: methodically baking those vegetables, tray by tray, cooking the tomato sauce and then blending the pine nut cream as the veges baked. Relying on a timer for my cues, I even caught moments to read other blogs at the kitchen table. Helping myself to a few of the baked potato slices kept my spirits up too.

With the quantities of water held in these vegetables plus the oil and salt bandied about in the recipe, there was a risk that this would end up a sludgy, salty mess. It was precisely the opposite - draining the salted eggplant kept the fluids in check, and a light touch with a can of spray oil rendered it velvety and not at all greasy in the finished moussaka. It did slice a bit sloppily, but that was to be expected - refrigerated pieces (such as the one photographed) flaunted much prettier layers.

We were very happy with the result, but it's not often that we'd set aside another four hours to earn it. I suspect we'll be turning back to our tempeh lasagne and Lancashire hotpot recipes before we go The Full Moussaka again.

Vegetable moussaka with pine nut cream
(adapted slightly from Yeah, That "Vegan" Shit,
where it's already adapted from Veganomicon)

vegetable layers
900g eggplant
450g zucchini
1.3 kg potatoes
lots of spray oil

tomato sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium brown onion, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup vegetable stock
2 x 400g cans crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 bay leaf

pine nut cream
1/2 cup pine nuts, plus extra to garnish
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon arrowroot
1 clove garlic
generous pinch nutmeg
generous pinch white pepper
450g silken tofu

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

Preheat an oven to 200°C. Line baking trays (as many as will fit into your oven) with baking paper and spray them with oil.

Wash the eggplants, trim off the stems and slice them lengthways into large flat pieces, about 4mm thick. Rub the slices with salt and layer them in a colander over the sink to drain. Wash and trim the edges off the zucchini, slice them lengthways into 4mm-thick rectangles and set them aside. Scrub and peel the potatoes, then slice them into large rounds about 4mm thick.

Spread the potato slices across the baking trays, sprinkle over a little salt and spray them lightly with oil. Bake the potatoes for around 20 minutes, turning them over half-way through, until they're cooked through and just browning a little at the edges. Set the potatoes aside. 

Retrieve the eggplant slices from the colander, tapping off any excess water, and spread them over the baking sheets, spraying them with oil. Bake them for around 15 minutes, flipping halfway through. Finally spread out the zucchini, spray them with oil, and bake them on both sides for a total of 15 minutes. Keep the oven on.

While all of this baking is going on, you can make the sauce and the pine nut cream. Place the oil in a large saucepan and set it over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook it for just 30 second, then add in the onion. Cook the onion, stirring regularly, until soft - I gave it 5-10 minutes. Add the stock and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Pour in the crushed tomatoes, oregano, cinnamon, bay leaf and a little salt. Allow the sauce to simmer for at least 10 minutes more, stirring occasionally.

Use a blender to make the pine nut cream. Start with the pine nuts and lemon juice, blending them to make a paste. Next add the arrowroot, nutmeg, white pepper and salt and blend thoroughly. If you have room, blend in the tofu - otherwise whisk the tofu to a smooth creamy consistency in a bowl, using a fork, and then whisk the pine nut mixture into it.

Now you might be ready to assemble the whole shebang! Remove the bay leaf from the tomato sauce and discard it. Spoon a third of the sauce across the base of a large, high-walled baking dish. Layer half of the eggplant across the sauce, then half of the potato. Spoon over half of the remaining sauce and sprinkle over half of the breadcrumbs. Use all of the zucchini in a single layer, then finish up the eggplant, then the potatoes. Spread over the remaining sauce and sprinkle it with the rest of the breadcrumbs. Spoon the pine nut cream evenly across the dish and sprinkle over any extra pine nuts.

Bake the moussaka for 35-40 minutes, until the pine nut cream is set, golden and staring to crack. Allow it to cool on the bench for at least 10 further minutes before slicing and serving.


  1. Sounds like you kept cool under the pressure. Those layered bakes like lasagna and moussaka always seem to take an endless amount of time and unlike similarly labor intensive cooking projects like vine leaves or ravioli I always wonder if they are quite worth the effort. Stuffed baked eggplants are very nice and not quite so much hassle

    1. Hi Elizabeth! That is a really good idea, I reckon this pine nut cream would be perfect for smothering some slightly-less-laborious stuffed eggplants. :-)

  2. I made moussaka in the last year or two but I did it with a friend and in the afternoon so I admire you making it after work - ours was time intensive and complex and delicious - And if you waited for 10 minutes before serving and slicing after all that time after work, I am very impressed at your patience.

    Ours had a very heavy dairy topping so I would love to this it this way. the pine nut cream sounds great

    1. Johanna GGG, if you like pine nuts then I reckon this cream will suit you! Cooking with a like-minded friend is a lovely way to go, it's been too long since I did that.

  3. pine nut cream sounds like heaven on a stick and i am uber-impressed by the beautiful layers in the pic, darl.

    p'raps if i pre-prepped the layers over a couple of days...bookmarking now (esp that pine nut cream...)

    1. Lucy! Lovely to see you 'round these parts.

      That's a nice, unhurried approach. I reckon I'm gonna try Elizabeth's suggestion above, too, and slather that pine-nut cream on some baked eggplant halves. A bit less fussy.

  4. I remember making this once and couldn't believe what an epic and long mess this was. It was tasty though, but I find so much of Veganomicon tremendous effort and lots of pots and pans.
    Pine mouth for the win!

    1. Heya Worbit! Oh, the pine mouth - I was sad to scrape the cream off my last moussaka serving, after I figured out what was going on.