Alicat and Sara host a really fun event every month, challenging food bloggers to take those cookbooks off the shelves and put them to good use in their "Weekend Cookbook Challenge" (WCC). This month's theme is Winter Comfort Food.
So many foods come to my mind when I think of comfort foods: vegetable gratins, casseroles, soups and stews, hearty pilafs. But I knew right away that I wanted to choose a dish from one particular cookbook on my shelf: Linda Fraser's "Vegetarian: The Best-Ever Recipe Collection".
The connection of this cookbook with winter is that it was a gift from my aunt T (one of my favorite aunts!) when I was visited her in upstate New York for Christmas 2001. That winter was a fairly mild one, and by December-end it had yet not snowed in NYC. Growing up in the tropics, I had never seen snow and was very excited about visiting aunt T and Uncle P, where the great lakes promise plenty of snow. I reached them on 23rd December and not a snowflake in sight! "You promised snow, where is the snow??", I whined to T. "Its coming tomorrow", she said. Sure enough, the next morning, I woke up to see soft flakes floating down lazily. I spent all morning gazing at the sheer beauty of snow, making snow angels when the ground got covered. Problem is, it kept snowing non-stop for a week. "I've seen enough, now make it stop", I wailed to T. But no, it snowed and snowed. It broke weather records. We could not open the front door any more (there was several feet of snow outside). There was no need to open the front door anyway, because there was a driving ban and we were house-bound. My flight back was cancelled. Aunt T desperately unearthed board games and videos to keep me entertained. It was a totally memorable first snow, and a memorable vacation! When it finally cleared, we drove out and went shopping and T got me an avalanche of Christmas gifts, including this cookbook that I just love.
Linda Fraser makes excellent veggie variations of classic dishes, and this is a good example. The book is beautifully illustrated and has great step-by-step directions. The recipe that I chose is "Vegetable Moussaka". This is a hearty eggplant casserole of Greek origin; sauteed eggplant slices are layered with a lentil-mushroom filling, and the casserole smothered in a yogurt sauce and baked to perfection. I splurged on some herbes de provence ( an aromatic dried-herb mixture) for this recipe, and I'm glad I did. They are the only "exotic" ingredient in this dish. I don't suppose this french herb mixture is traditional in this Greek dish, but it works in this recipe.
(serves 2-3, adapted from Linda Fraser's "Vegetarian: The Best-Ever Recipe Collection"
1/2 large eggplant, sliced (about 12 slices)
pure olive oil for frying
1/3 cup lentils, rinsed
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
1 cup cooked chickpeas (canned OK)
1/2 cup tomato puree
1 tsp herbes de provence
2/3 cup plain yogurt (I used whole-milk yogurt)
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
salt and pepper
1. Combine lentils and bayleaf with 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, then simmer till the lentils are tender. Drain the lentils and set aside. Discard bayleaf.
2. Fry the eggplant slices in a skillet in some olive oil. Drain onto paper towels and set aside.
3. To make the filling, saute the onions and garlic in extra-virgin olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cook for a couple of minutes. Add chickpeas, lentils, tomato, herbes de provence and stir well. Simmer for 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
4. To make the topping, beat the yogurt and egg together with some salt and pepper in a small bowl.
5. Assemble the casserole: In an oven-proof dish, layer the eggplant slices and filling alternately till both get used up, ending with a layer of eggplant slices. Pour the yogurt topping over it, then sprinkle the cheese all over.
6. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 25-30 minutes or until the top is golden and bubbling. Serve hot.
Serve with some crusty bread slathered with good butter, and a salad on the side for a hearty meal. Thank you, Alicat and Sara, for hosting this fun event and bringing back some great winter memories!