Vegetarian Moussaka

This substantial vegetarian moussaka is a casserole that is made up of layers of roasted eggplant and zucchini, tomato sauce that has been thickened with red lentils that have been cooked in a short amount of time, ground cinnamon, and a creamy béchamel sauce on top. The meal that is baked is very sumptuous, and each layer maintains its individuality.

This is a vegetarian extravaganza that is perfect for any special occasion. Putting it together indeed takes some time, but it is not a difficult task to accomplish! It will become clear to you that it is not a daunting task if you break it down, and you will not end up with a sink full of pots and pans.

How to Make Vegetarian Moussaka

Moussaka is the ultimate Greek comfort food, and that’s true for both the vegetarian version and this more traditional version made with beef or lamb. In either case, it’s a multi-step process that yields delicious results. There are three components to Vegetarian Moussaka:

  1. Roast thick slices of eggplant and zucchini until tender. They get soft and creamy.
  2. Make a quick and easy tomato sauce with canned tomatoes and lentils to give it body and extra protein. It has the subtle flavor of cinnamon, which is a traditional spice found in moussaka.
  3. Cheese and eggs are added to a homemade béchamel. It’ll give the moussaka a creamy and luxurious finish.

Assemble each component into a baking dish and bake it until bubbly and golden on top.

How to Make Béchamel 

Béchamel, sometimes called white or cream sauce, is the most delicious hallmark of a traditional moussaka. The dish is blanketed with it, creating a creamy and luscious golden top. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to make. Got 10 minutes?

  1. Melt butter in a saucepan.
  2. Stir in flour and cook it for about 2 minutes while stirring constantly. It will become a pale golden paste.
  3. Gradually whisk in milk until smooth.
  4. Cook the béchamel, continuously whisking to keep the bottom of the pan from scorching until it boils for about 1 minute and thickens. Stir, stir, stir. That’s all there is to it!

Tempering the Eggs

 Moussaka

In the traditional preparation of moussaka, the béchamel is made with eggs that are whisked in. This ensures that the béchamel will not be runny as it bakes. It is necessary to temper the eggs in order to prevent them from scrambling because the béchamel is extremely hot from the heat.

A small amount of béchamel should be used to gradually warm the eggs in order to temper them. First, in a large bowl, whisk the eggs until they are well combined. While you are whisking in the béchamel, place the bowl on a paper towel or a dish towel that has been wet. This will prevent the bowl from shaking on the counter.

While whisking continually, slowly drip approximately half a cup of hot béchamel into the eggs, about one tablespoon at a time over the course of the process. When touched, the eggs will have a warm sensation. After that, mix in the remaining hot béchamel in a slow and steady manner. In the event that it appears to be curdled, remove the lumps by passing it through a strainer with fine mesh that is placed over a basin. You are free to make use of it!

Tips and Tricks for Vegetarian Moussaka

Here are a few tips you should know before you make moussaka. You’ll have the best results knowing these up front.

  • Choose firm eggplants. You don’t need to salt it beforehand. Myth buster: Many recipes call for salting eggplant to remove bitterness and moisture. Not all eggplants are bitter—only overly mature eggplants tend to be bitter. I recommend salting eggplants for frying, but you don’t need to for this recipe.
  • Cut the eggplants and zucchini into 1/2-inch slices and roast them in the oven. The vegetables in moussaka are typically fried. Roasting them is less messy, easier, and some of the moisture is released as it roasts, preventing the moussaka from becoming soggy.
  • Start making the tomato sauce and the béchamel while the vegetables roast to save time.

 

Swaps and Variations that Work

When you adapt a meat version of moussaka to make it vegetarian, you really have license to make a few substitutions and still stay true to the spirit of the dish.

  • Traditionally, moussaka uses a dry, salty sheep’s milk cheese called kefalotyri. If you’re lucky enough to find it, use it! If not, Kasseri, Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese are great substitutes.
  • Swap out some of the zucchini with sliced potatoes. Brush them with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and roast them in the oven until tender, just like the zucchini.
  • For a cheesier béchamel, add about 1/2 cup more cheese.
  • Add canned chickpeas or sliced mushrooms to the tomato sauce.
  • Use green, black, or French green lentils instead of red lentils in the tomato sauce. Red lentils soften relatively quickly, so allow extra time for the other lentils to cook.

Make Ahead Tips

There are two options for planning ahead:

Assemble now: Assemble the moussaka, tightly cover it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for up to two days before baking. You may need to add a few more minutes to the baking time.

Assemble later: Refrigerate each component (the vegetables, the tomato sauce, and the béchamel sauce) separately in lidded containers for up to three days. Assemble it just before baking.

How to Store and Reheat Moussaka 

Leftovers can be refrigerated tightly covered for three to four days. Reheat the moussaka in a 350°F oven for approximately 30 minutes until warmed all the way through. I test it with an instant read thermometer inserted into the center. It should read 160°F. If the top begins to darken before the moussaka is fully reheated, cover it loosely with foil.

To freeze cooked moussaka: Cool it down, then freeze the entire dish or divide it into portions before freezing. Wrap the portions well with plastic wrap and then foil to prevent freezer burn. It will last for up to three months in the freezer. Thaw it the refrigerator overnight before reheating.

To freeze assembled, uncooked moussaka: Wrap the whole dish with plastic wrap and then in foil. It will last for up to three months in the freezer. The night before you are ready to bake it, defrost the moussaka in the refrigerator. Bake according to directions.

Plate of eggplant moussaka

Vegetarian Moussaka

PREP TIME105 mins
COOK TIME45 mins
TOTAL TIME2 hrs 30 mins
SERVINGS8 servings

Ingredients

  • Olive oil, for the baking dish

For the vegetables

  • 3 large eggplants (about 4 pounds)
  • 6 medium zucchini (about 3 1/2 pounds)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the tomato sauce

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 (28– ouncecan of crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup dried red lentils

For the béchamel

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (about 4 ounces) grated Kefalotyri, Kasseri, Pecorino Romano, or Parmesan cheese

To assemble the moussaka

  • 6 tablespoons fine, dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • 1/2 cup (about 4 ounces) grated Kefalotyri, Kasseri, Pecorino Romano, or Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, for garnish

Method

  1. Preheat the oven: 

    Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9×13-inch baking dish with olive oil.

  2. Prepare the eggplant and zucchini:

    Set the eggplants on a cutting board. Use a sharp chef’s knife to trim off the stems. Working with one eggplant at a time, cut a sliver off one side to create a flat surface.

    Turn the eggplant so the cut side is down on the cutting board. It will prevent the eggplant from rolling around while you cut it. Cut the eggplant lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices. Lay the slices without overlapping on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining eggplants.

    Set the zucchini on the cutting board. Trim off the stems and opposite ends. If they are longer than 8 inches, cut them in half crosswise. Cut them lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices. Lay them without overlapping on the second baking sheet. You may need a third baking sheet.

    Eggplant and Zucchini cut and roasted
     
    Eggplant and Zucchini cut and roasted
     
    Eggplant and Zucchini cut and roasted
     
    Eggplant and Zucchini cut and roasted
     
  3. Roast the vegetables:

    Use a pastry brush to brush 1/4 cup olive oil on both sides of the eggplants and zucchini. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon salt evenly over the vegetables.

    Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until tender. They may brown, they may not. Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheets while you make the sauce.

    Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F.

    Roasted eggplants and zucchini
     
    Roasted eggplants and zucchini
     
  4. Make the tomato sauce:

    In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the onions and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes until softened. Add the garlic, ground cinnamon, and oregano, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the wine and cook for 3 minutes, until it reduces by half.

    Stir in the crushed tomatoes and lentils. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender and the sauce thickens. You may need to add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, while the lentils cook if the tomato sauce seems too dry. It should be thick but still a little saucy, not as thick as a lentil stew. While the tomato sauce simmers, make the béchamel. When the sauce is ready, taste and adjust seasoning with more salt if needed.

    Vegetarian lentil and tomato sauce for moussaka
     
    Vegetarian lentil and tomato sauce for moussaka
     
    Vegetarian lentil and tomato sauce for moussaka
     
  5. Make the béchamel:

    In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly, for 1 to 2 minutes. The mixture should bubble but not brown.

    Whisking constantly, slowly add 1/2 cup of milk. When it is fully incorporated, whisk in the remaining 1 1/2 cups milk about 1/4 cup at a time. Whisk after each addition until smooth. Reduce the heat if it starts to thicken too quickly or burn.

    Bring the béchamel to a boil for 2 minutes while whisking constantly. It should be the consistency of thick cream. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste.

    Easy béchamel for vegetarian moussaka
     
    Easy béchamel for vegetarian moussaka
  6. Temper the eggs and add cheese:

    In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until frothy. Set the bowl on a damp paper towel or dish towel so that it doesn’t move around while you whisk in 1/2 cup of the hot béchamel, about 1 tablespoon at a time. The eggs will feel warm to the touch. Slowly whisk in the remaining béchamel. Stir in 1/2 cup of cheese. Taste and add more salt to taste.

    Easy béchamel for vegetarian moussaka
     
    Easy béchamel for vegetarian moussaka
     
    Easy béchamel for vegetarian moussaka
     
  7. Assemble the moussaka:

    Sprinkle 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs over the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Tilt the dish to evenly distribute the breadcrumbs. Spread half the eggplant slices following by half the zucchini slices in an evenly layer over the breadcrumbs. Spoon and spread half the tomato sauce on top.

    Repeat with a layer of the remaining zucchini and eggplant slices. Sprinkle the fresh oregano on top and spread the remaining tomato sauce.

    Spread the cheesy béchamel over the top and sprinkle the remaining 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs and 1/2 cup cheese.

    Assemble vegetarian moussaka in casserole
     
    Assemble vegetarian moussaka in casserole
     
    Assemble vegetarian moussaka in casserole
     
    Assemble vegetarian moussaka in casserole
    Assemble vegetarian moussaka in casserole
     
    Assemble vegetarian moussaka in casserole
     
  8. Bake the moussaka:

    Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set the baking dish on it. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the top is golden and the edges are bubbling. Check after 40 minutes and cover it loosely with foil if the top is browning before the moussaka is hot all the way through.

    Eggplant and zucchini moussaka in casserole
     
  9. Serve:

    Remove the moussaka from the oven and sprinkle with parsley. Let it rest in the baking dish for 10 to 15 minutes. Slice into squares and serve.

    Vegetable moussaka on white plate with fork

FAQ

What is Vegetarian Moussaka?

Vegetarian Moussaka is a meatless version of the traditional Greek dish, moussaka. It features layers of roasted or fried eggplant, zucchini, and potatoes, topped with a savory tomato sauce and creamy béchamel sauce. It’s a hearty and flavorful casserole that’s perfect for vegetarians or anyone looking for a meat-free alternative to the classic dish.

What are the key components of Vegetarian Moussaka?

The key components of Vegetarian Moussaka include eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, tomato sauce, and béchamel sauce. The eggplant is typically sliced and either roasted or fried until tender and golden brown. Similarly, the zucchini and potatoes are sliced and cooked until softened. The tomato sauce is made with onions, garlic, tomatoes, herbs, and sometimes red wine, creating a rich and flavorful base. The béchamel sauce, made from butter, flour, milk, and nutmeg, adds a creamy and indulgent layer to the dish.

Can I prepare Vegetarian Moussaka in advance?

Yes, Vegetarian Moussaka can be prepared in advance and stored in the refrigerator before baking. After assembling the moussaka in a baking dish, cover it tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. When ready to bake, remove the moussaka from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before baking as directed. This allows the ingredients to come to a temperature and ensures even cooking.

What are some variations of Vegetarian Moussaka that I can try?

There are many variations of Vegetarian Moussaka that you can experiment with to suit your taste preferences or dietary restrictions. For example, you can add layers of sautéed mushrooms or spinach for extra flavor and nutrition. Some recipes also incorporate lentils or chickpeas into the tomato sauce for added protein. Additionally, you can customize the spices and herbs used in the tomato sauce and béchamel sauce to suit your taste.

Can I freeze Vegetarian Moussaka for later?

Yes, Vegetarian Moussaka freezes well, making it a convenient option for meal prep or leftovers. After assembling the moussaka in a baking dish, cover it tightly with plastic wrap and aluminum foil to prevent freezer burn. Label the dish with the date and freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to bake, thaw the moussaka overnight in the refrigerator before baking as directed. You may need to add extra baking time to ensure that the moussaka is heated through.


 

 

 

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