On our first day in Sparta, I had what was the best meal of the entire trip: a vegetable moussaka so cheesy and creamy and delicious that I’m certain no Spartan warrior, real or from Hollywood, ever ate it or else they wouldn’t have had those abs. So, back to date night. When Nick suggested that we eat Greek food before the movie, I tried to create a healthier version of this memorable meal. My first attempt was kind of spartan (couldn’t resist) when it came to taste and to make up for it, we went to a Greek restaurant instead.
Still, I was intent on making a delicious, healthy version of this dish and continued experimenting for months. I’ve since combined multiple recipes to finally land on one that we love. The base consists of eggplant layered with a hearty puree of lentils, tomatoes, onion and spices, and it’s topped off with a cauliflower sauce to stand in for bechamel. It’s vegan, gluten-free, and totally healthy, so if you have plans to get 300-inspired abs, this moussaka won’t derail your efforts.
Note: This dish takes about two-and-a-half to three hours from start to finish, depending on your multitasking skills—think pureeing lentils while boiling cauliflower while baking eggplant. I’ve broken down the instructions into five easy sections to help you power through it like a kitchen warrior.
Yields about 9 servings
2 medium eggplants
2 cans diced tomatoes, drained
2 cups vegetable stock
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 cup green lentils
1 large onion, chopped
1/8 to 1/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
Salt & pepper
1. Prep eggplant: Cut eggplants lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Set on paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Let stand 30 minutes, then rinse and pat dry.
2. Prepare lentil-tomato sauce: Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, vegetable stock, lentils, oregano, bay leaf, and cinnamon stick. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 45 minutes, or until lentils are cooked, stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaf and cinnamon. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and process until chunky (if your food processor is small like mine, you may have to do this in batches). Season with salt and pepper.
3. Bake eggplant: Preheat oven to 400˚F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes, flipping the slices halfway through. Set aside to cool.
4. Prepare cauliflower sauce: Add cauliflower florets to a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes until the cauliflower is tender. Strain cauliflower and let cool. Add cauliflower, 1/8 cup almond milk, nutritional yeast and nutmeg to a food processor and process until smooth, adding more almond milk as needed. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Assemble and bake moussaka: Reduce oven to 350˚F. Spread a thin layer of the lentil-tomato sauce on the bottom of a deep baking dish (I used a 10x10 dish) and top with a layer of eggplant. Spread 2 cups of the lentil-tomato sauce on top. Add another layer of eggplant and top with the remainder of the lentil-tomato sauce. Spread cauliflower sauce on top. Bake for 40 minutes, then remove from oven. Increase oven temperature to 475˚F. Return dish to oven for an additional 10 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
P.S. Here are some of my favorite pictures from our time in Sparta. I thought Nick was joking when he suggested that we climb the tallest mountain in all of Sparta—since that seemed like something King Leonidas must have done—but I was wrong.
This way to some ancient ruins...and glory!
The city’s statue of King Leonidas—abs and all.
Here I am looking really excited about hiking this mountain.
But we made it to the top. Victory!