One of the greatest things about living in London is being surrounded by people from so many different countries and cultures – which was exemplified by the wacky 6-person international house I lived in for my first year in London. While I enjoy snarky banter about hilarious differences in accents and idioms, and never miss a chance to point out the spice-wimpiness of the French and the majority of Brits, I also made an effort to become a sponge to absorb all of the new foods and flavors I’ve been exposed to. This particular recipe is a re-creation of a Greek dish that I never ate but simply witnessed, as alas it was stuffed full of meat sauce! After watching my 5 housemates devour Konstantina’s Greek mother’s cooking (the quintessential Greek mother, constantly cleaning up after us and pushing food on us, all without speaking a word of English), I was determined to make a version of this dish one day on my own terms! And here it is – stuffed full of ‘meat’ sauce loaded with tempeh and mushrooms, and smothered in creamy bechamel and crumbled tangy feta. I threw in some red pepper flakes here mostly to be cheeky, because Greek food is definitely not traditionally spicy. However, I simply can’t stop myself when it comes to spice!
A note on tempeh: it’s not usually stocked in regular grocery stores, but in the US and UK you can definitely find it at Whole Foods. If you can’t find it (or can’t be bothered), you can use a commercial brand of vegetarian ground meat substitute such as Quorn or Tofurky brand. If you don’t like that processed stuff, I don’t blame you! Use cooked lentils or just throw in more mushrooms.
Ingredients (serves 6)
- 3 medium eggplants
- Olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 and 1/2 cups (200 g) chopped mushrooms
- 1 package (200 g) tempeh, crumbled
- 1 T soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp oregano
- Dash of ground cinnamon
- Optional: 1/4 tsp chili flakes
- 1/2 cup (100 ml) red wine
- 1 can (400 g) chopped tomatoes
- Optional: 1 tsp sugar
- Handful of chopped parsley
- Bechamel sauce:
- 4 T butter
- 4 T flour
- 2 cups milk, warmed
- 1 egg yolk, beaten
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 1 small pack feta (200 g), crumbled
Slice eggplants in half lengthwise, then score the inside flesh with a knife, as pictured. Sprinkle salt onto the scored flesh, then set eggplants aside in a colander for 20 minutes. This step will help to remove any bitterness in the flesh and will extract some of the water.
Set your oven to 200C (400F). Following the 20 minutes sitting, rinse the eggplants well and then pat dry with a paper towel. Drizzle the scored flesh with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then place flesh-side down onto a foil-lined baking tray. Bake 40 minutes in the oven, then let cool. Leave the oven on. While eggplant is cooking in the oven, you can prepare the sauces.
‘Meat’ sauce: heat 1T olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add chopped onion and a sprinkle of salt, then sautee a few minutes until onion is translucent. Add the chopped mushrooms and cook until mushrooms are softened. Add the tempeh along with another drizzle of olive oil – tempeh is a bit sponge-like and absorbs oil quickly. Sautee several minutes until tempeh starts to brown, adding a bit more oil as needed to prevent sticking to the pan. Once it seems well browned, add the soy sauce and stir well to let the tempeh absorb it. This will give some more umami flavor to the tempeh, which doesn’t have much flavor on its own. Once absorbed, add the garlic, oregano, chili flakes, and cinnamon, and sautee one minute. Deglaze the pan with the wine and let the alcohol boil off, then add the can of tomatoes. Mix well, add salt and pepper to taste, and the sugar if desired (it actually balances the flavors nicely), then reduce heat to low and partially cover, letting it simmer gently and reduce while preparing the next steps.
Once eggplant had cooled, scoop out some of the cooked flesh to make room for the fillings. I added the eggplant flesh into the simmering ‘meat’ sauce. Sprinkle some crumbled feta into the bottom of each hollowed out eggplant.
Bechamel sauce: melt the butter over medium-low heat in a saucepan. Once melted, add the flour and whisk well to incorporate. Slowly pour in the pre-warmed milk (I heated it in the microwave on a low setting) while whisking to prevent clumping. Turn heat up to medium and continue stirring until sauce has thickened. Remove from heat and add the egg yolk while whisking. Add a dash of nutmeg and season with salt and pepper.
To assemble: add the chopped parsley to the ‘meat’ sauce, then spoon the sauce into the hollowed out eggplants. Spoon the bechamel sauce on top, then sprinkle with more crumbled feta. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until feta has browned and is starting to melt. Serve with crusty bread and a light salad!