There is a season: Vegetarian moussaka is a scrumptious payoff

  • This vegetarian moussaka, perfect for Rosh Hashana, is mostly an eggplant dish. MOLLY PARR

Published: 9/3/2021 11:11:12 AM

Months ago, as part of a silent auction for the synagogue, I offered to cook a vegetarian meal for four to the highest bidder. When I touched base with the winner after the online auction, I suggested we wait until August, because that’s when the garden and my CSA would be producing the best of everything.

So this past month I served my meal, made almost entirely of produce from my garden and the CSA. (The peaches for the peach-basil ice cream were from the farmers market, but I grew the basil.)

Before the ice cream there was a chilled cantaloupe yogurt soup, smothered cabbage and noodles; a cucumber salad; a farro, cherry and beet salad; and a carrot salad with apples, dates, and a lemon honey dressing.

But it was the main course, a vegetarian moussaka — layers of spiced lentils, roasted eggplant, zucchini and tomato, topped with a creamy bechamel — that apparently stole the show. So much so that the auction winner requested the recipe, so I will share it with all of you here.

I had developed this recipe last summer, although I did some tweaking based on what I had on hand. I ended up using three or four eggplants for this dish, one zucchini, and one tomato.

That made this dish first and foremost into an eggplant dish. This was not a bad thing.

I have made this recipe in one fell swoop, but given all the other dishes I was making, it felt less daunting to break it down into steps.

I spent Saturday night roasting all the vegetables during a massive prep session. Lentils cook quickly enough that I was able to do them the day of.

Definitely wait to make the bechamel till closer to when you assemble everything for a final bake in the oven.

With Rosh Hashana starting on Monday night, I plan on serving this moussaka as a main dish at our festive dinner. It’s a total showstopper.

Vegetarian moussaka

Roasted vegetables

1 large globe eggplant, sliced lengthwise into quarter-inch slices

2 zucchini, sliced lengthwise into quarter-inch slices

1 slicing tomato, sliced lengthwise into quarter-inch slices

Extra virgin olive oil


1 yellow onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1½ cups of cooked lentils

1 14 oz can of roasted diced tomatoes

½ cup water

1 teaspoon dry oregano

½ teaspoon nutmeg

Pinch cinnamon

Bechamel Sauce

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoon flour

1¼ cup whole milk, heated



Heat oven to 400F.

For the lentils: In a medium-size saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Saute the onions and garlic and a pinch of kosher salt until fragrant and softened but not browned, about eight minutes. Stir in the cooked lentils, crushed tomatoes and water. Season with another pinch of salt, oregano, nutmeg and cinnamon. Bring to boil, then lower heat and cover part way. Simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes.

While the lentil sauce is simmering, roast the vegetables. Arrange the tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant slices on lightly oiled baking sheets. Brush with extra virgin olive oil. Bake in a preheated oven for about 20 minutes, flipping halfway, until everything has softened and browned.

For the bechamel sauce: Melt the butter in a heavy-bottom saucepan. Using a whisk, stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste cooks and bubbles a bit, but don’t let it brown — about two minutes.

Slowly add the hot milk, continuing to stir as the sauce thickens. Bring to a boil. Add salt to taste, lower the heat and cook, stirring for two to three minutes more. Remove from heat. Too cool this sauce for later use, cover it with wax paper or pour a film of milk over it to prevent a skin from forming.

Now, build your moussaka: Spread the cooked lentils across the bottom of a 9x13 pan, Next, add each vegetable in individual layers — first I did the eggplant, then the zucchini, and then the tomatoes on top. Finally, ladle the bechamel on top.

Bake in your hot oven for about 55 minutes. The bechamel will have browned in spots.

Remove from the oven and serve. If reheating, place in a 350F degree oven for 15 minutes.

Molly Parr lives in Florence with her husband and two young daughters. She’s been writing her food blog, Cheap Beets, since 2010. Send questions or comments to

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