This will feed four people for two days (or unexpected guests). It has similar layers to a moussaka but the resemblance stops there; a pungent vegan cheese sauce is used and a sweet, tangy tomato and chick pea sauce replace the mince. When I have served this to guests, without exception they have come back for seconds, even the most impassioned meat-eaters, such is its hearty depth of mixed delights. It is quite a performance to make, so it is best reserved for your day off. Alternatively, you can make it the evening before, omitting the baking stage, and leave the assembled dish in the fridge until you come home the following day, but take it out as soon as you get in the door so you can allow it to come to room temperature before baking. Turn the oven on 15 minutes before baking.
1 large, or two small aubergines
2 tbs olive oil (or thereabouts)
2 tins chopped tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 tins chickpeas
500g mushrooms, halved
1 red pepper, chopped
1 yellow pepper, chopped
800g organic potatoes
4 tbs tomato puree
2 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 tsp sea salt (if necessary; taste first because the cooked chickpeas may be slightly salty)
170g vegan cheddar cheese; one block of 55g, grated with the smallest hole on the grater, and 115g for the cheese sauce
1 tbs plain flour
30g vegan margarine
1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
3 tbs nutritional yeast
500ml plant milk
- First prepare the aubergine(s): Line two large plates with kitchen paper. Slice into 1 cm slices, then fry in the oil until soft and lightly browned on both sides. Aubergines are notorious for soaking up oil. Two tricks help with this. Firstly, if you are lucky enough to have a griddle pan, you can brush the pan with oil and if you keep an eye out, turning the aubergine frequently, you should be able to soften the aubergine without needing to add more oil. Secondly, if you fry the aubergine in two batches, once with the larger slices then again with the smaller (when you need less oil), hopefully they will cook evening and you won’t be forced to add more oil to prevent the little slices blackening.
- Drain the cooked aubergine on the lined plates. When they are cool, blot them further with kitchen paper – this ensures that you extract as much oil as possible. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4. Boil or steam the potatoes for about 15 minutes, until tender. Thick slices work well in this dish, and you need to cook them first.
- While the potatoes are cooking, make the savoury tomato sauce: fry the onion until transparent, then add the peppers, garlic, tomatoes, tomato puree, herbs, chickpeas and salt (if necessary). Bring to the boil, simmer for 10 minutes, then add the mushrooms and simmer for a further 5 minutes.
- Pour the sauce into a large casserole dish. Lightly sprinkle with a little of the 55g block of vegan cheese. Add a layer of cooked potatoes (it doesn’t matter if they overlap as they are already cooked), then sprinkle with soft dusting of the vegan cheese. Finish with a layer of aubergines and another smidgeon of vegan cheese.
- Repeat these layers, ending with the aubergine, but on this final layer do not sprinkle any cheese because you will be finishing with a covering of cheese sauce.
- To make the cheese sauce, melt the margarine, add the flour and stir vigorously to make a smooth paste.
- Turn off the heat, then very gradually, drop by drop, add the plant milk, stirring and scraping the sides and bottom of the pan after each addition. Turn on the heat and stir constantly until you have a thickened, smooth sauce. Add the mustard, nutritional yeast and the grated 115g portion of cheese and stir until both are incorporated.
- Pour the sauce on the top of your layered casserole dish and bake for about 40 minutes until the top is lightly browned.
All the ingredients for two nights for four people come in at £12.88; however, that is buying everything from scratch, including flour, marg and nutritional yeast. I had to go to a health food shop for the latter. It can be found in Waitrose but it is usually for the same price, so if you are not near a Waitrose you’re better off going to your local health food shop, which you’ll know if you’ve used nutritional yeast before. You’ll also know that it lasts a long time (it’s a large tub) and is extremely useful for vegan cheesiness!