Sunday, February 3, 2013

Vegetarian Moussaka
(with vegetable protein)

Whilst taking the photos for this post, I pondered as I often do about how a Greek culinary purist might view my bastardisation of a traditional Greek dish. Especially when I use an ingredient like soy-based vegetable protein, sometimes even more unattractively labelled as "textured vegetable protein" or TVP, as a meat replacement.

But I am a vegetarian, and I love Greek food, so the only way for me to enjoy traditionally meat-based Greek dishes is to either remove the meat component or replace it with something else.

Many Greek dishes, especially those that use minced meat, are bursting with flavours that come not from the meat but from spices, herbs, nuts and vegetables. Cinnamon, tomatoes, oregano, honey, mint, almonds, olives, dill, garlic, walnuts – these are the flavours that make Greek food Greek. The meat is often just there to bulk things up a bit. (Sometimes cinnamon is in fact used to disguise the taste of the meat!)

For vegetarians the same bulking effect can be achieved with any number of substitutes including mushrooms, kidney beans, lentils, tofu, eggs or TVP.

Now, I know that not everyone is a fan of TVP. Many vegetarians simply aren't interested in recreating a meat-eating experience and don't see the need to use this product when there are so many other wonderful ingredients that will do the job just fine. But for those that are part-time lovers of vegetarian food, or those that are transitioning towards vegetarianism, TVP can make things a lot easier and it doesn't taste too bad either.

I personally prefer using mushrooms as a substitute in Greek dishes that call for minced meat, and I have a very hearty mushroom moussaka recipe to post soon, but today I would like to introduce you to moussaka with vegetable protein.

Vegetarian Moussaka (with vegetable protein)

Serves 8–10


  • 2 onions, finely sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 x 400g cans chopped peeled tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 x 400g cans of TVP*, drained and rinsed
  • 4 potatoes, sliced to 1cm thick
  • 2 eggplants, sliced to 1cm thick
  • Salt and pepper to taste
For the bechamel sauce
  • 1 litre milk
  • 80g butter
  • 80g plain flour
  • 80g sharp cheese**
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten

* TVP is not easy to find in the stores. If you can't find it (or you just can't bring yourself to eat TVP) you can use lightly fried mushrooms, cooked kidney beans or cooked lentils. The TVP product I buy is unfortunately the only one I can get my hands on these days. It comes in a can and is mixed with a claggy jelly that they call "gravy" but I prefer to rinse this out. I just empty the can into a strainer and rinse under cold running water for a minute or so while separating with a fork. There's also a non-soy product derived from a type of fungus which tastes a bit better than canned TVP but doesn't agree with some people's digestive systems, including my own!

** Kefalograviera (a sharp Greek cheese) is traditionally used however it contains animal rennet. I prefer to use a non-animal rennet cheese. Check the label.


  1. Fry the onions in olive oil on low heat until caramelised. Takes about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. I always fry onions this way. It's worth the wait for that sweet, mellow flavour.
  2. Lay the potato and eggplant slices on a greased baking tray, spray liberally with oil and grill for 5 to 10 minutes each side, until golden. The eggplant may go quite dark but this intensifies the flavour so it's a good thing!
  3. Once onions have caramelised, turn the heat up to medium, add grated carrot and garlic and fry for a few more minutes, adding a bit more oil if it's looking a bit dry.
  4. Add tomatoes, cinnamon, tomato paste, oregano, honey and TVP to the onion mixture, stir well and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and allow to simmer, uncovered, for around 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste. I know an hour is a long time but the sauce becomes so rich and full-flavoured this way. A lesser cooking time will result in a watery sauce, and a sad and sloppy moussaka.
  5. While the sauce is cooking, make the bechamel sauce (see below). Cover and set aside.
  6. Lay out the potatoes and eggplant evenly over the bottom of a greased, medium-sized baking dish (about 25 x 35 cm). Potatoes first, then the eggplant.
  7. Once the tomato sauce is cooked, pour over potatoes and eggplant and spread evenly.
  8. Lastly, cover the tomato sauce with bechamel sauce and bake in a moderate oven (180 degrees celsius) for around 45 minutes, or until top is golden brown (yeah I know, mine's beyond golden brown but the seal's broken on my oven at the moment so I turned it up to 200 to compensate and just walked away – probably shouldn't have done that).

Bechamel sauce

  1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add the flour and mix well, stirring quickly.
  3. Cook while stirring for around 1 minute until the mixture is beginning to froth a little, then remove from heat.
  4. Add around a quarter of a cup of milk, stirring quickly to incorporate. The mixture will thicken and lumpify a little but trust me, it will smooth out. Immediately add a little more milk, stirring quickly and constantly, ensuring the mixture is combined properly before adding more milk. Keep adding milk and stirring until all the milk is incorporated.
  5. Put the saucepan back on medium heat, stirring constantly until it thickens. Takes around 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
  6. Using a whisk, quickly stir in the cheese and beaten egg. Cover until ready to use.

Cut the moussaka into portions and serve with plenty of grated cheese and a side salad.

P.S. I've linked this post with Veggie Mama's fantastic blog for Meatless Monday.


  1. That's one recipe I was looking forward to seeing on your blog :) thanks for sharing it! It looks delicious!

    Oh, I usually buy TVP from health food and organic food stores. I get the dried type that has to be soaked in water for a few minutes and it doesn't come with extra flavouring. This is one of the brands that makes this product

    1. Thanks for the TVP tip Deb! I've never seen tried TVP so I'll definitely look out for that. Thanks for the link too - I'll be placing an order if I can't find it locally. Too easy!

  2. I came over here from Christine's
    I have gone back to your very first post and read them all - I will be following your blog as I love all the recipes so far.
    I am not (yet) vegetarian but I already make a vegetarian moussaka using lentils instead of the meat. I like the sound of your recipe so I will try it using lentils. I'm also going to try the lentil meatballs - they sound wonderful.
    I live in the south of France so I will have to wait a while to try your tomato and bean salad but we are lucky enough to have beautiful homegrown tomatoes at the market here in the summer.
    Looking forward to lots more lovely recipes!

    1. Thank you so much for dropping by syrahsuzie! And wonderful to have a visitor from France. Moussaka with lentils is one of my favourites too. Lentils are just lovely aren't they? I'm really pleased you will be following my blog and look forward to seeing you here again soon!

  3. I agree that it's often the combination of nuts, spices and the like that really make a meal or cuisine distinctive. After making TVP meat pies for friends one of them asked, "What did you use that tastes like meat?". Uh, nothing - it was mushrooms and rosemary and gravy that she was tasting. I'm quite tickled by the thought that Greeks might even try to hide the taste of meat with cinnamon. :-D

    1. Ah yes - mushrooms, rosemary and gravy - such a fantastic combination that makes magical things happen in your mouth.

  4. That looks delicious! I don't use TVP very often, but that definitely looks like it would be worth getting some for. Your photos are gorgeous as well.
    Have a lovely day!

    1. Thanks Liz! I don't use TVP a whole lot either but it works really well with the other textures in this moussaka recipe.

      I've just had a look at your blog and I love the veggie box idea! I'll have to look into that :)

  5. I'm having this dilemma too as I want the foods I veganise (mostly my mum's cooking) to be as close as possible to the non-vegan version. I've been making trial-and-error revani cake to post up on my blog but so far no good with the egg replacer, and I don't want to try other alternatives because they stray too far from the taste of the original recipe. It's fun though :)

    1. Hi Veganopoulous and thanks so much for dropping by! Yes it's hard enough vegetarianising some of these recipes, but veganising would be even more challenging. I can see why the good old revani cake is causing you grief - it uses 7 eggs or something doesn't it? And because the eggs act as both a binding agent and leavening agent you'd need something pretty substantial to replace them... have you tried more baking powder and some agar agar mixed with water? I'll keep an eye on your blog for the recipe!

  6. hi, I think it's about 8 or 6 eggs. I gave up experimenting because I was eating something sweet every day and getting sick (literally!) of it. I tried arrowroot after reading some advice on the web but it was blergh. I have agar agar but haven't used it much. I just have to work up the appetite for more syrup cake because you know that when you make a batch, it's there for a few days and you eat more than one piece every day :)

    1. Yep, know what you mean about that sugary stuff.. It's very hard to let it go to waste! And a sugar-OD is something that can take weeks to recover from!!

  7. I tried one vegetarian version of Moussaka, but this one is interesting... will try this one next!

    1. Hi Preethi! I have a couple more vegetarian moussaka recipes also, one with mushrooms and another that uses lentils. I make the TVP version for my mum and the first time she tried it she couldn't believe there was no meat in it!

  8. Try using Quorn mince usually found in the vegetarian or GF frozen section of Coles. Then skip on the potatoes if you like since traditional Moussaka is without potatoes!
    Your recipe looks really yummy though. I was keen to see how you cook your eggplants beforehand cause I tend to cook them in oil in a pan. I like your way better!

    1. Hi Naomi :). Yes, I've tried a few of the Quorn products. I don't mind the taste but unfortunately it doesn't agree with my stomach! In fact, it was Quorn I was referring to in this post, where I talk about a non-soy product derived from a type of fungus.

      You're right, traditional moussaka is made without potatoes but many of the tavernas in Greece now make it with potatoes, and my dad always uses potatoes when he makes moussaka because he says they help absorb any excess liquid.


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