Recipe of the Week: Vegetarian Moussaka

Last week while I was reading through my local newspaper I saw a recipe from a cookbook by Aristedes Pasparakis. My husband and I spent many hours eating food prepared by Aristedes (we never knew his last name). He opened his first Toronto restaurant, The Temporary Calimari Joint, down the street from our office. The restaurant was small, below street level and unprepossessing. Well, it needed to be because Aristedes' larger than life personality and booming voice filled the place. The food was fabulous and we ate lunch there more days than not, and sometimes stopped in for dinner as well before heading home.

My husband had a birthday coming up, and having worked our way through the entire menu we asked him to devise a dinner for us and just surprise us and our six guests. When we arrived for dinner at 7:00 a bleary eyed Aristedes said dinner would be awhile because he had been up all night catering a party. Oh yes, and a rave review had appeared that very morning in the newspaper and would-be diners were literally lined up the stairs and out on the street. It didn't help that there wasn't enough crockery in the kitchen, so waiters had to nervously grab plates from diners the second they were finished and rush them back to the kitchen for a quick wash.

In the midst of all of this was a supremely unperturbed Aristedes who would come to our table and put huge frying pans and plates of food in the centre telling us he was experimenting with things he'd never cooked before and hoped we liked it. I have no idea how many courses we ate that night because there were too many to count. I have no idea how many bottles of wine we drank that night because I was no longer able to count. At about 1:30 am we asked for the bill and Aristedes looked over the wreckage of our table and said he'd never made any of this stuff before and didn't know what to charge. He suggested we just pay him for the wine and call it a night. So we paid for the wine and left a really, really big tip.

I hadn't realized that Aristedes had written a cookbook, so I got it and have been happily perusing the wonderful sounding recipes. He always had the great Greek standard Moussaka on his menu, but unlike the heavy, greasy version you usually get his was always light and delicious. In a twist on that classic he has a recipe for Vegetarian Moussaka which is what I tried. I have a couple of caveats with this recipe. It isn't hard at all, but it is a bit time consuming so don't plan it for a quick weekday dinner. It also makes a lot of moussaka. It says it serves 6 and there are just the two of us, so I cut the recipe in half. We still had three meals from it. I suggest you make this on a Saturday, make a green salad and invite some friends over to share it with you. Oh, and don't forget the wine.

You can make all the component parts to this recipe earlier and then assemble it at the last minute. If that is the case, bake it at 350 F for 10 or 15 minutes first, broiling alone won't make the bottom part hot enough. Aristedes method is to cook the vegetables on two non-stick pans over a very high heat without using any oil. Cooking it this way keeps the eggplant from being greasy.I don't have any non-stick pans, so I used my well seasoned wok and cooked the eggplant and zucchini in batches. That may be why it seemed to take a long time, but it worked just fine. I also couldn't find any chestnuts, so I just omitted them. He suggests you could use fresh or bottled chestnuts.

Vegetarian Moussaka

12 oz chestnuts, boiled, peeled, and skinner
2 cups thick yogurt
1 cop shredded Cretan or Swiss gruyere cheese
1 tsp dried chili flakes
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 lb eggplant
1 lb zucchini
2 cups thinly sliced onion
6 cloves of garlic, slivered
5 cups tomatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (I used canned tomatoes and chopped them)
2 tbsp chopped fresh sage (or 1 tbsp dried)
2 tbsp chopped fresh marjoram (or 1 tbsp dried)
2 cups cooked lentils (or chickpeas, or half of each)
3 tbsp currants
5 tbsp olive oil
fresh parsley for garnish

1. In a bowl, mash chestnuts, yogurt, 3/4 up of the cheese, chili flakes and salt and pepper until smooth. Set aside
2. Peel eggplant and cut lengthwise into long 1/4 inch thick strips. Cut zucchini into 1/4 inch strips. Heat 2 large frying pans on high heat for 3 minutes. Add eggplant to one pan, sprinkle with salt and pan dry turning once for 8 to 10 minutes, until tender, withered and somewhat charred. Meanwhile add zucchini to second pan and cook, turning once, for 6 to 8 minutes, until tender, withered, and somewhat charred.
3. Arrange eggplant in a baking dish; top with zucchini. Set aside.
4. Heat one of the frying pans on high heat for 3 minutes. Add onion and garlic; cook, tossing for 2 to 3 minutes, until onion is soft4ened. Add tomatoes, sage, marjoram, salt and pepper to taste; cook stirring, for about 3 minutes, until thickened. Add lentils or chickpeas and currants; cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the oil.
5. Preheat broiler.
6. Spread tomato mixture over the zucchini and eggplant. Spread chestnut mixture over that, and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 of cheese. 7. Broil moussaka 8 inches from heat for 3 to 4 minutes until cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown.

Serve 6

This recipe is from New Greek Cuisine by Aristedes Pasparakis and Byron Ayanoglu

Tags: Planet Green | Toronto | Vegetarian

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