With roasted eggplant, seasoned ground tempeh, and creamy bechamel sauce, this vegetarian moussaka recipe is Greek comfort food at its best!
I’m a huge fan of Mediterranean and Greek dishes (in fact, tzatziki was the first recipe I ever post on the blog)! With ingredients that taste like sunshine, this cuisine just always seems to be packed with flavor. And this vegetarian moussaka is without a doubt one of those ultra-flavorful dishes.
What is moussaka?
But first off, what the heck is moussaka? Moussaka is a casserole-style dish commonly made with either an eggplant or a potato base. It usually includes a ground meat of sorts (often beef or lamb) and is made by layering the different ingredients, much like lasagna. It’s usually made complete with bechamel (a white cheese sauce).
Moussaka comes from the Mediterranean area and is often credited to Greece. Our dish will somewhat differ from the traditional Greek style, as we will be making this moussaka without lamb and will use ground tempeh in its place!
Here’s what you’ll need
This recipe consists of three main parts: eggplant, tempeh, and cheese sauce. Each portion of this recipe is easy to make!
Eggplant: For the eggplant part of this recipe, we will need 3 medium eggplants, salt, and olive oil. Eggplants make up three layers of this moussaka dish. The salt is used to help remove the moisture from the eggplants, and the olive oil is used for tenderizing the eggplant as it bakes.
Tempeh “Lamb:” Though used in the traditional dish, we’re making this moussaka without lamb. Tempeh takes its place, and is prepared in a way that tastes quite identical to the “authentic” recipe. To prepare this part, we will use tempeh, olive oil, white onion, garlic, tomato paste, salt, oregano, black pepper, cinnamon, and red wine!
Cheese Sauce: Finally, the cheese sauce is used to add a delicious texture and flavor to the top of this casserole. We’ll be making what is essentially a bechamel sauce with egg. We will need milk, unsalted butter, all-purpose flour, grated pecorino romano or parmesan, salt and pepper, nutmeg, and eggs.
How to make vegetarian moussaka
Making this moussaka involves preparing the eggplant, tempeh, and cheese sauce, and then stacking it all together in lasagna-like layers. With each section broken down into digestible steps, you’ll find that this dish is quite easy to prepare! It should only require half an hour of preparation.
Step 1: Sweat the eggplant
To begin, cut the eggplant lengthwise into ¼ inch slices (I like to do this with a mandolin slicer). Sprinkle slices evenly with salt on both sides, then set on a few layers of paper towels and set aside for 16 minutes. When finished, firmly pat the eggplant as dry as possible with the paper towels.
Salting the eggplant removes bitterness and moisture, which helps create a firmer casserole in the end.
Step 2: Precook the eggplant
Next, preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C). Brush the eggplant slices on both sides with oil, and then bake for 30 minutes. Flip halfway through cooking until the eggplant is tender and slightly browned.
When finished, remove the eggplant from the oven and increase the temperature to 400°F (204°C).
Step 3: Grate the tempeh (“lamb”)
Meanwhile, grate the tempeh using a box grater. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and then add the tempeh. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tempeh begins to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Add onion, garlic, tomato paste, and spices, continuing to cook for another 5 minutes. Add wine and cook uncovered until the liquid has completely evaporated, about 1 minute.
Tempeh is used in place of the lamb that is included in the traditional recipe. By grating, we give the tempeh the texture of ground meat (just like with tempeh taco meat). Finally, we mix it with a special blend of spices and wine to give it a classic moussaka lamb flavor.
Step 4: Prepare the cheese sauce
First, heat the milk until warm in the microwave. Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat, and then whisk in the flour to form a smooth paste.
While whisking, slowly drizzle milk into the paste until completely combined. Continue whisking and cooking until the mixture thickens, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in ½ cup of the cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Allow to cool a bit (so that it’s warm but not hot), and then stir in the eggs.
The addition of egg in this bechamel gives it structure when cooked!
Step 5: Assemble the moussaka
Next, it’s time to prepare the dish for baking. Grease a 9×9 inch (or similar size) casserole dish. The layer the eggplant and tempeh. It’s okay if the eggplant overlaps or if there are gaps! We will layer in this order:
Start with ⅓ of the eggplant, then add ½ of the tempeh, and then add another ⅓ of the eggplant.
Layer the second ½ of the tempeh.
Lastly, add the remaining ⅓ of the eggplant.
Once your layers are complete, top the dish with the bechamel sauce, spreading it to evenly cover the top. Sprinkle the dish with the remaining ¼ cup cheese.
Step 6: Bake
Finally, bake the moussaka for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Let cool slightly before serving. Enjoy!
Storage and preparation tips
Here’s how you can enjoy your extra moussaka again and again, as well as how to prepare it ahead of time for easy day-of cooking!
How to store moussaka
Store leftover moussaka in a well-sealed container and keep in the refrigerator. Eat within 3 to 5 days. Leftovers can be reheated in the microwave in short intervals. You can also use the oven to warm it!
How prepare ahead of time
If you’d like to prepare your vegetarian meal ahead of time, prepare just as described in the directions, but don’t bake it. Instead, cover the layered dish and place it in the refrigerator overnight. Then, right before you’re ready to enjoy, bake. This is great to do for holidays or other gatherings where there are a number of dishes to prepare.
Recipes that pair well for serving
Here are some delicious side dishes that pair well with vegetarian moussaka! The Tzatziki Cucumber Salad is one of my own personal favorites. Give it a try!
- 3 medium eggplants
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp olive oil 30 mL
- 2 8-oz packages tempeh 226 g each
- 1 Tbsp olive oil 15 mL
- 1 cup diced white onion about 1 medium onion
- 5 cloves garlic minced
- ¼ cup tomato paste 60 g
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp oregano
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ cup red wine 120 mL
- 2 cups milk 475 mL
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter 45 g
- 4 Tbsp all-purpose flour 45 g
- ¾ cup grated pecorini romano or parmesan divided, 75 g
- ½ tsp each salt and pepper
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 2 large eggs
- Sweat Eggplant: Cut eggplant lengthwise into ¼ inch slices. Sprinkle slices evenly with salt on both sides, then set on a few layers of paper towels and set aside for 15 minutes. When finished, firmly pat eggplant as dry as possible with paper towels.
- Precook Eggplant: Preheat oven to 350°F (176°C). Brush eggplant slices on both sides with oil, then bake for 30 minutes, flipping halfway through cooking, until eggplant is tender and slightly browned. When finished, remove eggplant from oven and increase temperature to 400°F (204°C).
- Tempeh "Lamb": Meanwhile, grate tempeh using a box grater. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then add tempeh. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tempeh begins to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Add onion, garlic, tomato paste, and spices, continuing to cook for another 5 minutes. Add wine and cook uncovered until liquid has completely evaporated, about 1 minute.
- Cheese Sauce: Heat milk until warm in the microwave. Melt butter in a small pan over medium heat, then whisk in flour to form a smooth paste. While whisking, slowly drizzle milk into the paste until completely combined. Continue whisking and cooking until mixture thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in ½ cup of the cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Allow to cool a but (so that it's warm but not hot), then stir in the eggs.
- Assemble: Grease a 9×9 inch (or similar size) casserole dish. Then layer – ⅓ of the eggplant > ½ of the tempeh > ⅓ of the eggplant > ½ of the tempeh > ⅓ of the eggplant. Top with bechamel sauce, spreading it to evenly cover the top. Sprinkle with remaining ¼ cup cheese.
- Bake: For 30 to 45 minutes, or until top is golden brown. Let cool slightly before serving.