Polenta moussaka

For four people

This is very much a vegetarian hybrid dish. The moussaka familiar from Balkan, or more specifically Greek, cooking, is gloriously rich, creamy, and perfumed. It can also be heavy (weighed down by an egg and flour-based cream gratin) and greasy (a combination of minced lamb or beef, aubergines, and olive oil). 

For this vegetarian version I've tried to keep something of the flavour of the original while making it substantially lighter and less greasy by using a polenta base. I have also dispensed with the eggs and flour, and use only a relatively small amount of vegetarian mince, and that for texture as much as flavour. Olive oil remains prominent because of the large amount of it absorbed by the aubergines when being fried. 

And, on the question of aubergines, many cookery books still advise that before being cooked aubergines should be salted, left to stand for half-an-hour or so, and rinsed dry  I used to follow this advice, but gave up doing so many years ago. It really doesn't seem necessary. Whatever the reason - and I suppose it has something to do with the modern cultivation of aubergines - the advice seems to me to be well out-of-date.    


Polenta, cooked. See Polenta and how to cook it
1 largish aubergine, about 350g (12 oz) in weight, halved lengthways, halved again, then cut crossways into medium sized pieces
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
Vegetarian mince (whichever kind you prefer) 175g (6oz)
Single cream, 150ml (5 fl oz)
Vegetarian emmenthal cheese (or cheddar), 175g (6oz) grated
Tomato purée
Yeast extract, about a half a level teaspoon
Salt and pepper
Fresh nutmeg


Lightly grease a table-ready oven dish, measuring approximately 20cms (8 inches) x 30 cms (12 inches) x 5cms (2 inches). Cut about half of the already prepared polenta in squares of a suitable size to cover the base of the dish. Set the dish aside. In a medium sized saucepan, fry the onion, add the mince, salt and pepper, the yeast extract, and a good squirt of tomatoes purée. Cover with stock, stir,  and cook for the amount of time recommended on the packet, 15 minutes should be plenty. Set aside. 

In a large frying pan, fry the aubergines carefully in olive oil, turning frequently until soft and beginning to brown, though try not to let them burn.  Remember aubergines are very absorbent and you will need to add what may seem quite a lot of extra oil. They should take about 6 or 7 minutes to cook. 

Layer the aubergines on top of the polenta, add the mince, and then pour on the cream. Grate a generous amount of nutmeg over the cream, add the cheese, drizzle some olive oil over the top, and cook in the pre-heated oven, Gas 5, 375F, 190C, for 40-45 minutes by which time the top of the polenta moussaka should be lightly crisped. 

Serve with a green salad and olives.