GRILLED & BAKED DISHES

Greek-style lentil and eggplant bake

Greek-style lentil and eggplant bake

This delicious and comforting bake is a little like Greek moussaka, in that it’s a layered casserole-type dish with sliced eggplant, but without meat in the tomato sauce and no egg in the béchamel sauce. So it’s a good dish if you’re a vegetarian (or not). Instead of meat we make it with canned brown lentils, which have a hearty taste and texture and also happen to be packed with fiber and nutrients. They’re so easy to use, just rinsed and drained straight from the can, and they work so well in the tomato-herb sauce together with grilled eggplant and creamy cheese sauce.

This recipe is actually quite straightforward to make, but as with most baked layered dishes, it involves a little bit of time and a few steps — namely making the lentil sauce, grilling the eggplant, making the cheese sauce and then assembling and baking the dish. So we tend to cook this on the weekend with time to relax and enjoy the process. That said, you can prepare it on the weekend and keep it unbaked in the fridge or freezer, ready to pop in the oven for a mid-week dinner served piping hot straight from the baking dish at the table.

By itself this dish is pretty filling, so you only need some crusty bread, rice or bulgur on the side to complete the meal. Or, to make it more substantial, add layers of cooked potato (2 medium potatoes, sliced), cooked rice (2 cups), or cooked pasta (2 cups, macaroni is ideal) before baking.

If you don’t have eggplant, then grilled zucchini slices are a good alternative, however they don’t impart the same unique, slightly smoky flavor that you get with the eggplant. We’ve found that the eggplant slices, brushed with a little olive oil, cook well under a hot oven broiler, but you can also cook them in a char-grill pan, bake them on a tray in the oven, or cook them in an electric grill machine. Or if you happen to have leftover barbecued eggplant, then lucky you, you’re one step ahead.

Leftovers are just as good, if not better, reheated the day after, although we usually fight for the last piece the night before!

Greek-style lentil and eggplant bake
Serves 4
A delicious and comforting layered casserole dish with herb-infused lentil and tomato sauce, slices of grilled eggplant, and cheesy béchamel sauce.
2 eggplants — cut lengthwise into ½-inch slices
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (plus extra for greasing the baking dish)
1 onion — finely chopped
3 garlic cloves — finely chopped
14 oz (400g) canned chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
14 oz (400g) canned brown lentils — rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons plain flour
2 cups milk
½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
PREHEAT the oven broiler (grill) to high. BRUSH the eggplant slices on both sides with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. PLACE on a large baking tray and cook directly under the broiler for 5 minutes on each side. WHILE the eggplant cooks make the lentil sauce. HEAT 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and cook the onion for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. ADD the garlic and cook 2 minutes. ADD the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, oregano, cinnamon and pepper and bring to a boil. REDUCE the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. STIR in the lentils and parsley to combine. REMOVE the eggplant slices from the broiler once cooked and preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C. MAKE the cheese sauce by heating 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan. STIR in the flour to combine and cook 1 minute. ADD the milk gradually, stirring continuously, and cook until the sauce thickens. STIR in the grated Parmesan and crumbled feta until well combined and melted. SPOON a few tablespoons of the lentil sauce in the bottom of a lightly greased baking dish. TOP with half the eggplant slices, then layer with half the lentil sauce, and half the cheese sauce. REPEAT the layers of eggplant slices, lentil sauce, and cheese sauce. BAKE for 35 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to stand for at least 10 minutes to firm up a bit before cutting into pieces and serving.

Variations: To make this dish more substantial, add layers of cooked potato (2 medium potatoes, sliced), cooked rice (2 cups), or cooked pasta (2 cups, macaroni is ideal) before baking. If you don’t have eggplant, then grilled zucchini slices are a good alternative.