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!
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
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.