Monday, March 18, 2013

Low-carb Vegetarian Moussaka
topped with Creamy Paprika Ricotta
Meat Free Week – Day One


Ohhh we are so excited today!! It's the first day of Meat Free Week!

And quite appropriately, today also marks the start of the Lent period before Greek Easter. Delightfully named "Clean Monday", it is the first day of the Greek Orthodox meat-free fasting period which lasts for 5 weeks, and ends at midnight before Greek Easter Sunday when an almighty feast to break the fast is laid out on the tables of Greek family homes all over the world.

Here in Australia my meat-eating, non-Greek partner Tony has decided to take on the Meat Free Week challenge. For one week he will go without meat with thousands of other Australians as part of a campaign to raise money for animal welfare organisation, Voiceless.

I'm already a vegetarian but to join in I am also changing my diet. I am eliminating carbohydrates for the week. WHY I hear you ask. Well it's not just an arbitrary decision. Tony is a Type 1 diabetic and he is already on a low-carb diet which he can't really change. He is, however, able to replace animal proteins with tofu for Meat Free Week. Obviously I already eat lots of tofu, but in order to be able to cook meals together for this challenge, I am taking on the low-carb element of Tony's existing diet.

Tony claims the level of difficulty to get through the week on tofu is close to a 9 out of 10, so I am providing as much encouragement as I can by giving up my carbs for the week, therefore subjecting myself to just as high a level of difficulty!

We both think we're doing it harder than the other, but really it just sounds bad if you put it all together. In other words, Tony was already on a carb-free diet, and I was already on a meat-free diet so to find a level ground, each of us only had to eliminate one more thing from our diets. We're really not doing anything overly radical ... (we keep telling ourselves).

But the big bonus that comes out of this is that we get to cook and eat the same meals! As you can imagine, our differences in eating preferences means that we rarely cook or eat together so this is a great way for us to share more quality time in the kitchen, doing something we both love. And that is to cook!

And Tony finally gets to use the Vegetarian Utensils!


But all that aside, the main focus of Meat Free Week is to raise awareness of the amount of meat Australians eat and where it comes from. Click here to read more about the Meat Free Week campaign.

Our first meal together took a bit of preparation but it was well worth the effort. We found this amazing low-carb moussaka recipe (the only source of carbohydrates being from vegetables) in one of Tony's diabetic reference books, "Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution" by Richard K Bernstein, MD.

The recipe calls for meat but obviously we have replaced this with tofu and have made a few other minor adjustments to suit our tastes. The big eye opener to us was the humble vegetable that's used to replace high-carb potato – The Turnip.

Now, this may sound surprising to some but neither Tony nor I have ever eaten turnip. Don't slap me but I didn't even know what a turnip looked like until I bought one yesterday for this recipe.

Well, what a surprise package this vegetable turned out to be! When cooked it tastes just like a potato! But with a quarter of the carbohydrates! This has opened up a a whole new world of possibilities for us: turnip rosti, turnip and cheese croquettes, turnip fries, mashed turnip! And not just for Meat Free Week. For Tony especially (who, unlike myself, won't be returning to a carby diet after this week), he's very excited to have discovered such a nifty little potato replacement.

Tonight's moussaka was an absolute winner for both Tony and I. He hardly noticed the tofu, and I hardly noticed the lack of bechamel sauce. The ricotta topping was actually quite amazing. The addition of paprika gave it a warm, earthy flavour, and it browned up just beautifully!

We served it up with a simple green salad of mixed leaves, cucumber, olives, walnuts and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and honestly, it was just lovely to sit together at the dining table and enjoy the same meal :)

Low-carb Vegetarian Moussaka topped with Creamy Paprika Ricotta

Adapted from Dr Bernstein's recipe, "Moussaka a la Bernstein" from the book Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • Oil for frying
  • 1 large eggplant, sliced into 1 cm rounds
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 red capsicum, finely diced
  • 400g tofu, sliced into 1 cm strips
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 turnip, sliced into 1/2 cm rounds
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup grated sharp cheese

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius. Fry eggplant rounds in oil, until browned on both sides, adding more oil as the eggplant absorbs the oil. Set aside
  2. Meanwhile, in a separate pan add a couple of tablespoons of oil and the cumin and allow to fry for a minute or so until fragrant. Add tofu strips and fry for a few minutes each side. Set aside.
  3. In the same pan, add some more oil, the capsicum, garlic and oregano and fry for a couple of minutes. Set aside.
  4. And once again, in the same pan, add some more oil and fry the turnip slices for 5 minutes each side, until lightly browned.
  5. In a large bowl add ricotta, cream, paprika, salt and pepper to taste and whisk until well combined. Add eggs and whisk a little more.
  6. Grease a baking dish around 20cm x 30cm and layer the eggplant, tofu, turnip and capsicum mixture. Pour the ricotta mixture over the vegetables and top with grated cheese.
  7. Bake moussaka for 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

It will keep well in the fridge for 3 or 4 days – we are having this for lunch tomorrow – but the best thing is that it can be frozen and easily thawed and reheated in the oven, covered with foil at 180 degrees celsius for the first 15 minutes, then foil removed for the last five minutes.


Oh, I'm also linking this post with Veggie Mama's Meatless Mondays – go take a look for some more fabulous ideas for Meat Free Week!

19 comments:

  1. you know what?! i've never had a turnip, either! i avoid potatoes, too, so this information has opened a whole new world to me! i can't wait to experiment. the moussaka looks FABULOUS.

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    1. Thanks Caitlin, and great to hear I'm not the only unworldly one when it comes to turnips! They also have a slightly sweet taste when fried which really surprised (and delighted!) me :)

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  2. That looks delicious and an excellent way to start your challenge week!
    We ate turnip occasionally as kids but I don't think I've ever bought one myself, so maybe I should experiment with it too!

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    1. Thanks Liz. We're now off to get the soy flour pizza started.. A bit worried about this one as all the recipes we've been checking out for the base say that it kinda tastes like cardboard but "you can always mask the flavour with some really rich toppings" (!). I guess our beautiful Greek flavours should do the trick!

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  3. I bet by the end of the week, Tony will be begging you to cook more tofu for him. :D I've only had turnips once before and I really don't remember what they tasted like. I guess I should give them another chance, huh?

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    1. Hmmm, not sure about Tony begging for tofu. He's already struggling as he needs to eat it for lunch too to keep his protein intake up. Being on low carbs he really needs lots of protein. Yes try the turnips again! Fry them like you would potato - they're just wonderful! I can't wait to experiment with them more..

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  4. Love the food compromise! Sounds like a delicious dish - will have to try it this weekend. Yum!

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    1. Hi Miachel! This moussaka is almost as good as the real thing. The only thing I really miss from it is the tomato which is usually cooked up with some onions and layered between the vegetables. The ricotta topping is a very impressive replacement for the bechamel though. It's so yum!!

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  5. Good luck Tony and Lisa with your challlenging week! The moussaka looks great! I'll have to try the ricotta topping next time I make it. Looks beautiful.

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    1. Thanks Jenny! So far so good!! Two days down and all is going smoothly so far :)

      I'm glad you like the idea of ricotta on moussaka - it's an interesting variation to bechamel and works surprisingly well.

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  6. A wonderful moussaka! It looks and sounds ever so delicious. The kind of dish I'd gladly eat anytime..

    A great challenge. I have more difficulties eleminating carbohydrates from my diet than going 100% vegetarian for a few weeks...

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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    1. Thank you Rosa, the moussaka was a real surprise to both Tony and I. Yes, I agree about the difficulty involved with removing carbs from your diet - I didn't think I was going to be able to cope - but after two days I'm actually feeling really good! I know, early days yet, but I'm optimistic! (I have to be!!!!!)

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  7. Well, you are off to a flying start! This looks terrific, even for those of us with fewer dietary restrictions. :-)

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    1. We're up to Day Five now and I have to admit the moussaka has been my favourite meal of the week so far.. Although tonight's contender (Briam with Cinnamon-baked Tofu) might just change that!

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  8. I just found your blog and I want to thank you for these great recipes and inspirations! I love Greek food but haven't tried to vegetarian-ize much of it in my own kitchen. I'm glad to know that I can, and I look forward to trying some of your recipes. Plus, you two are totally adorable!!

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    1. Hi Sarah! Welcome!! I'm glad you like the recipes and it's great you love Greek food because I have so much more to share with everyone :). Hope to see you here again soon!

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  9. We're trying the moussaka for dinner tonight! I replaced the turnip with its cousin, the rutabaga though. And can you explain what kind of sharp cheese you used for the topping? I thought you might mean cheddar but I don't think that goes with these flavors well.

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    1. Hi Erin, I hope I'm not too late in replying to your query. When I say sharp cheese all I mean is a cheese that has a strong flavour, like parmesan, or if you can find it, the Greek cheese "kefalograviera". However, if you are a vegetarian and you prefer not to use a cheese that contains animal by-products (kefalograviera and most parmesans contain rennet), you can actually use a tasty cheddar cheese. This is what I usually use and it really does work surprisingly well with this dish.

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  10. Made this last night and it is delicious! My only tip would be to perhaps add something about draining the oil from the fried veggies, because our dish was SWIMMING in oil by the time it was done baking. Maybe that's obvious to anyone who fried regularly, but I rarely fry anything and neglected to drain the oil from all the veggies and it got a little over oily! Otherwise, a labor-intensive but worthwhile recipe! Thank you!

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