How To Not Become Overwhelmed by The Excellence of Other Bloggers & Vegetarian Moussaka

I’m navigating the blogging scene. As a personal creative outlet and as an accompaniment to my forming Personal Chef business, I must research other bloggers and their craft, in order to learn to appear like I know what I’m doing.
So far so good.
I’m learning photography and all kinds of hip stuff from Movita and Lan. Not that they are the only talented people with probably  great cameras out there, but one can only concentrate on so many research subjects at a time. Excellence must be studied in order to fully appreciate how much work is involved. And these ladies make it seem easy! Then there is Poppy, the first blogger that clicked “like” on my first blog posting. She is teaching me about the diligence involved to make a blog successful.
Thank you, Poppy.

I’d love to have a dinner party with these ladies, everyone bringing a dish or three. And their cameras. But they are very busy (reading blogs makes one kind of involved in the author’s life). Lan is doing pre-honeymoon preparations, Movita is going into Nutcracker mode, and Poppy keeps finding creative and delicious ways for Vegans to be able to deal with being Vegans. I’m just teasing, Poppy. Your enthusiasm and the skill in your craft are eminent and you must tell me how you manage to keep the weight off while cooking so many wonderful things.

I’m roasting some turkey thighs right now (cover your eyes, Poppy!) for a future post, so until that is done, I’ll post the recipe for my Vegetarian Moussaka  (you can uncover them now). I’d love to learn how to make vegan Bechamel…

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This was the only recipe I ever got a bad review on, by a customer who had come by and bought some of this Moussaka for himself and his wife during the pre-Easter fasting period (Greeks like to use these 40-day-long fasting periods that fall on their religious calendar just before Easter, Christmas, and the 15th of August, for periods of healthier eating, detox, or actually fasting because they feel they have to).
When I had packaged his two portions of Vegetarian Moussaka for him to take home, he repeatedly asked me whether I was sure it contained no meat. I assured him that since I myself was involved in the cooking process, I could testify that no, this special pre-Easter Moussaka, contained absolutely no meat, but that it did contain milk and eggs and cheese.

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This did not concern him. I explained how soya granules absorbed the flavors of whatever you gave it to absorb and what with the wine, herbs, spices, and vegetables the soya was sauteed with, it may resemble the flavors that ground meat was normally cooked with, but of course will not taste of the meat itself.
“Of course,” he replied.

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So he left, and other customers came and left the shop; the moussaka was doing quite well that day, and I wished as I always did when something went well, that I had made more. As I was packaging the last three pieces of the Moussaka and some salads, the phone rang, and I answered it cradling the phone between my shoulder and my ear, while I kept packing the food up.
“Hello! Anke’s Kitchen. Can I help you? (in Greek)”
“You lied to me!(ψέματα μου είπες)”, an enraged voice coming out of the phone and made me wish my hands were free.
“Who is this? What are you talking about? (ΤΙ;)” as I quickly tried to hurry packing the food, salads and desserts into the carrier bag. The waiting customer has realized something is wrong.
“I’m sitting here with my wife who is an expert and she knows! She can tell! (Ξέρει! Ξέρει!)”
“Ποιός ξερεί τι; (who knows what?!)”
“This vegetarian meal you sold us! Do you think we are fools?! Foreigners! We take our fasting seriously! You can’t just sell us this and think we won’t notice! MY WIFE KNOWS! YOU CAN’T FOOL HER! THERE IS MEAT IN THIS DISH! (blablabla in Greek)”

At this point I don’t know what to say. Do I insist and explain, making him, the honorable customer, wrong? Do I up the level of my voice that will also certainly make my present customer flinch and insist that NO, it is SOYA GRANULES!?
Before I had the chance to decide, he yells a final “WE WON’T BE BACK!” and hangs up loudly causing me to almost drop the phone.
I must have looked pale because my waiting customer looked concerned and asked me whether I was alright. I explained what had just happened and how it was the most bizarre complement that I have ever received.She thought it was rather amusing.

“Are you fasting?” I ask her as I filled the bag with the final four pieces of egg-less desserts, taking care that none of the packages leaked cinnamon flavored sugar syrup.
“Oh yes. We find this time of the year very beneficial for eating lighter, healthier, and less. Not because we don’t like meat.”
“I see”, I said as I heaved the carrier bag over the counter with that day’s fasting provisions, hoping it wouldn’t break.

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Vegetarian Moussaka

serves 8

4 medium sized eggplants, sliced about 1/2″ (1cm) thick
2lbs (1 kilo) of potatoes, sliced 1/2″ (1cm) thick
2lbs (1 kilo) zucchini or mixed types of squash, slice 1/2″ (1cm) thick
olive oil or vegetable oil for frying

For fake meat filling:
1 cup dried soya granules
3 cups hot water
1/2 cup olive oil
2 medium sized onions, chopped
2 carrots, grated
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
1lb (1/2 kilo) vine ripened tomatoes grated, OR 5 tablespoons tomato paste diluted in  1 1/2 cups of water, OR 14.5oz (411g) can of chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 cups (1/4 liter) of dry red wine
2 teaspoons dried oregano, or 1 handful fresh oregano
1 teaspoon black pepper
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

For Bechamel Sauce:
1 double batch as listed here (Faith has done a wonderful job here describing, as well as photographing, the Bechamel making process), plus:
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
two pinches of coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, or Gruyere cheese
Breadcrumbs (for sprinkling)
a few small pats of butter

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1) Place sliced eggplant slices in a colander and rub them with salt (I use sea salt for everything). Leave them be for about an hour so they can sweat out whatever bitterness they may contain. Rinse, then pat dry.

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2) Pour the soya granules in a bowl after you have rubbed salt on the eggplant slices and cover with  the hot water. Let soak it soak while you prep the remaining ingredients. Afetr soaking, drain and squeeze out excess water. It will have the consistency of cooked rice, but it will not get any mushier by extra cooking, as rice would do. It will soak up flavorful goodness later, so squeeze out as much water as you can.

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Making the fake meat filling:
Saute the onion, celery, carrot, and pepper in olive oil, in a largish casserole dish, until the onions are glassy.
Add the soaked, drained, and squeezed granules. Keep stirring so it doesn’t stick.

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Add the red wine, the tomatoes, and the spices. Lower the heat and let simmer until the most of the liquid had evaporated, stirring occasionally. Set aside when done.
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In a pan, fry until golden, then drain on paper: the potato slices, the zucchini (or mixed squash) slices, and then the eggplant slices.

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After they have cooled a bit, layer them into a baking dish, starting with the potato, then the eggplant, then the zuchini and/or squash slices. I divided everything into two baking dishes so that I could freeze one before baking, for some gloomy time in the winter when I want to be reminded of summer.

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Spoon a thick layer of soya /veggie mix onto the fried slice layers

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Make the double Bechamel batch by following Faith’s  instructions, then add the nutmeg, white pepper, garlic powder, a little more sea salt, and eggs. Mix well with a whisk, then pour the sauce over the soya/veggie mix, making sure you leave just a tad of room so it doesn’t run over the edge while baking. Sprinkle with grated cheese, breadcrumbs, and small pats of butter.

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Bake in a 360F (180C) Oven for about an hour, or until the top of the Bechamel is browned and bubbly. Let stand until almost room temperature. Serve in large slices, or wedges. It will all hold together if it has had a chance to cool, otherwise you risk a baking dish full of swimming ingredients.

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Do a little like Zorba and dance a little Sirtaki.

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