As winter subsides, I can spy a tiny glimpse of summer on the horizon. Until the hot weather finally arrives, I’ll continue to dream of island holidays and balmy nights. This week I’ve been dreaming of Santorini sunshine, and all of the culinary delights that come with the beautiful country of Greece. I love to immerse my imagination and let it become fully involved in cooking; if I feel like a Greek island holiday, I’ll make it a reality with my mixing spoon. Even though I’m not globetrotting at this point in time, why should I let that stop me from experiencing the sensory delights of the world?
If you can’t get your mitts on a plane ticket, working your magic in the kitchen is the next best thing to a travel adventure. With the wonderful World Wide Web supplying a wealth of knowledge and information, you can find thousands of recipe ideas that’ll zip you off to Rome, Nairobi, even Beijing at the drop of a rolling pin. But if you’re after a Greek getaway, you can’t really go past the illustrious moussaka.
Moussaka, whist having a prominent place in Greek culinary history, can also be found dazzling the dinner tables of other Eastern Mediterranean continents, as well as areas in the Middle East and the Balkans. Most versions are based primarily on eggplant, layers of minced meat, which is then topped with a creamy, rich béchamel sauce. Naturally, I’ve done my thing and supercharged this meal through the roof. There are always adjustments that can be made to turn a regular dish into a significantly more fantastic feast that’s higher on nutrients, and elevated in flavour.
I do enjoy a good quality cut of pasture fed meat, but I’m also more than happy to wave my banner high for the goodness of plant foods. Scientific research is constantly confirming that a diet high in plant foods is consistent with longer life, and the absence of chronic disease. That’s why I’ve replaced the mince with lentils for this munchable moussaka. Lentils might be small, but nutritionally, they’re giants; containing a brilliant source of folate, iron, B vitamins, magnesium and plant protein. They’re also a powerful cholesterol fighter due to their high levels of fibre, and have been found to stabilize blood sugar and lower the risk of heart disease.
The béchamel sauce is another area that needs renovation. Whilst a thick white layer of fromage is tempting, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favour by leaving this one behind. Béchamel sauce, which you’ll also find in lasagne, croquet monsieur, and several other popular European dishes, is full of milk, cheese and refined wheat flour; all of which are taxing on your digestive system, and pose several risks to people with food allergies, low functioning immune systems and auto-immune diseases. Wheat products contain glue in the form of gluten, and cow’s milk contains lactose; both of these substances are incredibly difficult to break down and can contribute to a range of illnesses. The good news is that you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater; you can still enjoy a rich, creamy, ‘cheesy’ sauce and enjoy Moussaka. But instead of using acid forming, digestion disrupting ingredients, I’ve appropriated the béchamel sauce into a scrumptious sunflower seed cheese. I promise you won’t miss the béchamel sauce in the slightest!
Sunflower seeds are one of my all time favourite ingredients, and a brilliant dairy substitute due to their high calcium content. They’re also super high in vitamin E; your bodies primary fat-soluble antioxidant. Vitamin E is highly beneficial for cardiovascular health, and contains significant anti-inflammatory properties; making it a great snack for people suffering with the symptoms of asthma, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other conditions where free radicals and inflammation play a big role.
Nutritional yeast flakes are the miracle ingredient in the sunflower seed cheese, and are a God-send ingredient for people avoiding dairy, as they have a distinctive cheesy flavour, and can act as a substitute cheese in almost all cases. The beautiful thing about nutritional yeast is that it’s loaded with B vitamins, including vitamin B-12. Vitamin B-12 is so important; being responsible for the smooth functioning of several critical body processes including the healthy functioning of nerve and blood cells, the conversion of food into energy, digestive health and the renewal of skin cells. If you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon of this wonder ingredient, you can purchase nutritional yeast flakes here, or at your local organic grocer or health food shop. Use nutritional yeast flakes to cheese-i-fy dishes like this Buckwheat Risotto with Spinach and Mushroom, or delicious Homemade Lemon Pesto. Sprinkle over pizzas, soups or roasted veggies to add a dairy free, cheese kick.
Basking in the limelight of this vegetable moussaka is the one and only eggplant. This beautifully firm, shiny, dark vegetable is a member of the nightshade family, along with tomatoes and capsicums. Eggplants are spectacularly high in phytonutrients with powerful antioxidant activities. Some insightful research has been made on the excellent eggplant regarding the phytonutrient nasunin; a powerful antioxidant and free radical scavenger that’s been discovered to protect the healthy functioning of brain cells. For some people with auto- immune issues night-shade vegetables can be bothersome and if this is the case you can swap this ingredient out for zucchini. Eggplants are also a fantastic source of digestion supportive dietary fibre and bone building manganese, as well as vitamin A, B vitamins, folate, vitamin C and minerals potassium, calcium and phosphorous. Aside from this mouth-watering moussaka, my favourite eggplant recipe is this beautiful Baba Ganoush—definitely worth a try, and is a simple, delicious way to benefit from this impressive veggie!
Now there’s absolutely no need to dream of Greek Island getaways. This vibrant vegan moussaka will do the trick, sweeping you off on a sensory experience potent enough to make you believe you’re dancing on the white sands of Mykonos. Your guests will certainly be dancing when they immerse themselves in the fabulous flavours of this vivacious vegetarian dish; especially the creamy, ‘cheesy’ sauce, minus the bloating and stomach churning afterwards. Even more so, your insides will be yelling “Ooopa!” as they receive loads of powerful antioxidants, vitamins and minerals in this supercharged version of a Greek culinary favourite.
Filling and sauce:
- 100 gms sliced eggplant
- 100 gms zucchini, sliced
- 1 onion, sliced
- 3 TBS Olive Oil
- 1 shallot chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tbs Apple Cider vinegar
- 2 cans of chopped tomatoes
- 2 cans of lentils lightly drained
- 2 tsps oregano
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 cup vegetable stock
Topping Sunflower Seed Cheese
- 1 cup sunflower seeds (soaked in water for 3 hours)
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/2 lemon juiced
- 3 TBS nutritional yeast flakes
- pinch sea salt
- 6 TBS filtered water
- 2 TBS nutritional yeast flakes for topping
- Sprinkle eggplant and zucchini slices with Celtic Sea Salt let sit in a colander to drain then rinse off the salt. (30 mins)
- Brush eggplant and zucchini with olive oil
- Place in 200 degrees Celsius oven for 20 mins until browned
- Now make the sauce, sauté garlic and onions until browned on stove top
- Add Apple cider vinegar, tomatoes, lentils, stock, oregano and cinnamon
- Cover and simmer on medium to low, for about 15 minutes
- Whizz up the sunflower nut cheese ingredients and set aside
- Place pre-soaked seeds in food processor and mix until a smooth paste
- For a creamier cheese add filtered water. Place in refrigerator to firm up
- In a casserole dish place a layer of the cooked eggplant and zucchini
- Pour sauce over all the sliced vegetables.
- Add another layer of vegetables, then sauce
- Ensure top layer is vegetables
- The final layer is sunflower nut cheese
- Now sprinkle the final layer with Nutritional yeast flakes
- Bake in oven at 220 degrees Celsius for about 15-20 minutes or until the top is crispy