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Mussa'at beitenjan

With the month of January being dubbed as "Veganuary", I thought that it would be a good idea to share one of my favourite comfort foods that also happens to be vegan. Even better, it is pretty much a one pan wonder!

Mussa'at beitenjan is the Middle East version of the arguably better known Greek moussaka, which is popular in the US and Europe. The two versions are quite different, but have one main ingredient in common: aubergine. Moussaka has layers of aubergine, potato and meat topped with a thick bechamel layer, while its Middle East cousin can be made with or without meat and is tomato based, without bechamel. Both are absolutely delicious, but while the Greek version is a bit labour intensive, mussa'at beitenjan is pretty easy and doesn't require many steps.

Also known as mussa'a or mnazaleh, mussa'at beitenjan is best served at room temperature. It is believed that this is why it got its name, as mussa'a translates as "cold". It is found on many Middle Eastern mezze tables and can be eaten as a dip or a main dish. While many people make it in several steps, cooking everything separately and then transferring the ingredients to a baking dish and cooking them together in the oven, my shortcut works just as well, with the same result.

This dish couldn't be easier and requires very little effort. Traditionally the aubergines are fried, but you can toss the chunks in olive oil and roast them in the oven until golden. Either way, you just want to make sure that your aubergine chunks are big so that they do not disintegrate in the sauce later. You can brown some minced meat and add it to the dish, but I personally prefer the vegetarian option and love to add chickpeas, which have a lovely texture.

Once you have all of the ingredients in the tray, stick it in the oven for about 45 minutes, making sure to remove the foil half way through, or until the sauce has thickened and the top begins to brown. You can eat this with a side dish of vermicelli rice or bread. So go ahead and enjoy this hearty and nutritious meal that is not only good, but also good for you.

Ingredients

4 large aubergines, cut into large cubes

1 large onion, halved and sliced

5 large tomatoes, cut into large cubes

2 sweet large peppers, sliced

2 tbsp garlic paste

600g canned chickpeas

3 tbsp tomato paste

400ml water

3 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp mixed spice

Salt

Pepper

Frying oil

Instructions

  1. Fry the aubergines in a large frying pan until they are golden. They do not need to be cooked, as they will continue to cook in the oven with the rest of the ingredients. You may need to fry them in batches depending on the size of your pan. Place on paper towels to drain excess oil and set aside.
  2. In a deep baking tray, mix together the fried aubergines, tomatoes, peppers, onions, chickpeas, garlic, olive oil and spices, making sure to mix them gently so you don't mash the aubergines.
  3. Mix the water and tomato paste together and pour over the tray. Give the tray a shake, cover with foil, and bake at 180 C for 45 minutes to an hour, uncovering the tray for the last 20 minutes. Cook until the liquid has reduced and thickened and the top starts to brown.
  4. Serve warm or at room temperature with a side dish of bread or rice. Then enjoy!

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