You know what I miss? When I had the time to flip through my cookbooks or scroll through food blogs and bookmark recipes I actually planned on making. My hours of stomach-rumbling browsing has turned to minutes. My zest for multi-step, artfully assembled dishes such as this vegan moussaka with pine nut cream, has dwindled to cravings for simple and quick meals.
For all the things that being busy gives, there are so many things it takes away: the time to let books enliven the mind, friends renew the spirit, and food delight the senses. At least I have the pictures to remind me of these things passed, surely to come again.
I made this moussaka a month or so ago to share with friends for dinner. It made for a wonderful side dish to the salad, cheese, bread and wine they provided.
My first experience with moussaka was in Patra, Greece. Freshly off the ferry, my companions and I stopped for a bite before boarding a tumultuous train to Athens. I don’t remember much aside from the picture I have of the moment. Isn’t it strange how pictures so often circumvent memory?
I can see four women bent over plates of pita, gyro, hummus, and tzatziki. I can see goblets of wine casting their sunny purple on our stacks of this earthy eggplant casserole, with all its layers fused together with rich tomato sauce.
The picture takes me back to that slight strangeness we felt, having just met, and it’s quick dissolution over the new tastes before us. I can almost sense, once more, the Mediterranean air so near our skin.
The bright colors of this carefully layered dish bring two things to mind then. One, the gift of having time to make good food, and two, the thrill of newness. Balance is not an easy thing, but gratitude, once learned, surely is.
On this (Canadian) thanksgiving weekend, the pictures of this meal remind me that there will again be balance in my life and serenity in eating. I might not have time to make and photograph a whole new kitchen extravaganza, but I have these saved memories of meals I have not yet shared. It may not be turkey, but it speaks loudly of the slow and simple life.
I have so much to be thankful for, even just in the past few days. A surprise visit from my mom and an impromptu trip to Canada, finishing my first marathon, and a week that’s already looking better than the last. My glass is truly full, and with my mom around, tonight so will be my plate.
Eggplant-Potato Moussaka with Pine Nut Cream
1 large eggplant
1 medium yellow and 1 medium green zucchini
2 large, long Russet potatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 red onion, sliced thinly
- Preheat the oven to 400. Lightly oil three baking sheets or shallow pans.
- Wash the eggplant and zucchini and trim the stems. Scrub and peel the potatoes. Slice the eggplant lengthwise (think lasagne noodles) into 1/4 inch slices, rubwith a little salt and set aside in a colander over the sink for about 15 minutes to drain. (This makes them less bitter.) While they are draining, slice the zucchini and potatoes similarly.
- Briefly rinse the eggplant slices with cold water and pat dry with a paper towel.
- Place the zucchini and eggplants in a bowl and toss well with 1/8 of the olive oil. Spread out on two baking sheets (some overlapping is OK) and sprinkle with a little salt. Do the same for the potatoes, but put them on their own sheet with the red onions.
- Roast the zucchini and eggplant for 15 minutes, and the potatoes for 20-22 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned. Set all aside to cool.
- When the zucchini slices are cool, gently but firmly squeeze the slices by the handful, to remove any excess water. This will help the casserole stick together.
1/4 cup olive oil
4 large shallots, sliced thinly
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup vegetable broth or red wine
2 (15-oz) cans crushed tomatoes, with juice
2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 ground cinnamon
1 bay leaf
- While the veggies are cooking, prepare the sauce. Combine the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and minced garlic in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Heat over medium heat and let the garlic sizzle for about 30 second, and then add the shallots and cook until soft and translucent, 3-4 minutes.
- Add the wine and simmer until slightly reduced, about 3 minutes.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, oregano, ground cinnamon, and bay leaf. Partially cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 12-14 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce should reduce slightly. Turn off the heat, remove the bay leaf, and adjust the salt to taste.
Pine Nut Cream (or use ricotta cheese)
1 pound soft silken tofu
1/2 cup pine nuts
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp arrowroot powder
1 clove garlic
- Make the pine nut cream (if you’re not vegan, you could substitute this for some ricotta cheese mixed with nutmeg and garlic) by blending the pine nuts and lemon juice in a food processor until a creamy paste forms.
- Add the tofu, garlic, arrowroot, nutmeg, salt, and white pepper. Blend until creamy and smooth.
Lightly oil a 9×13 inch pan and preheat the oven again to 400, if necessary. Spread 1/4 cup of sauce on the pan, then add successive layers in order of eggplant, potatoes, and sauce. (If you want to use some ricotta cheese in the layers too, feel free.) Spread all the zucchini on top of this. Top with a final layer each of eggplant, potatoes, and sauce. Use a rubber spatula to evenly spread the pine nut cream over the entire top layer.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the top is lightly browned and a few cracks have formed in the topping. Allow to cool 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
courtesy of Veganomicon