Mixed Reviews on Moussaka

As promised, I have cooked the well-known Greek specialty, Moussaka, and my family has mixed feelings about the dish.  For me, it was too much work for a result that was hearty, flavorful, and interesting but not  spectacular, and which provided no more than satisfied grunts from the menfolk.  For me to work that hard, and dirty up that many dishes, I need more than animal noises from the diners.

However, I must confess that out of several recipes that I had available, I chose the simplest one rather than the one that looked the most delicious — simple laziness, or in less self-deprecating terms, exhaustion.    At any rate,  I have decided to include two recipes here, and you can take your pick.  I fully intend to cook the more complicated one at a later date, because it looks delicious and probably has less fat than the other.

But before I launch into the recipes, a little history. The origins of moussaka are mired in mystery, according to Clifford A. Wright author of The Mediterranean Feast, but it is probably originally an Arab dish since it was the Arabs who introduced the eggplant to Greece.  The Palestinians have a very similar dish called “musakhkan.”

Here is Wright’s more complicated recipe, slightly modified by me:

Melitzanes Mousakas (Greece) Eggplant Moussaka

  • 3 lbs. eggplant, sliced 1/3 inch thick
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 lbs. ground lamb
  • 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 large tomato (about 1/2 lb.), peeled, seeded, diced
  • 1/4 c. finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground allspice berries
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large egg whites (save yolks for sauce) beaten to form stiff peaks
  • 2 Tbs. dried (gluten free) bread crumbs

For the White Sauce

  • 9 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 9 Tbs. flour (I would use Pamela’s GF Baking and Pancake mix which has worked well for me in white sauces.)
  • 3 cups milk (I used lactose free milk)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated kefalotyri or kashkaval cheese
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 large egg yolks

To Finish the Moussaka:

  • 1 tsp. unsalted butter
  • 3 Tbs. dried GF bread crumbs

1)  Lay the eggplant slices on some paper towels and sprinkle with salt.  Leave them to release their bitter juices for 30 minutes, then pat dry with paper towels.

2) Heat a lightly oiled cast-iron griddle over medium-high heat for 10 minutes. Brush each slice of eggplant on both sides with olive oil and cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes a side.  Brush and cook the remaining slices.  REmove and set aside on a paper towel-lined platter to absorb more of the oil.

3)  In a medium-size skillet, brown the lamb over medium heat until it loses most of its fat, about 10 minutes.  Remove with a slotted spoon, pressing down each scoop with the back of a spoon to squeeze out more fat.  Clean skillet, then heat the olive oil over medium high heat and cook the onion and garlic until translucent, 5-10 minutes, taking care the garlic doesn’t burn.  Add the meat and crumble it further with spoon.  Add the wine, tomato, parsley, oregano, bay leaf, cloves, sugar, cinnamon stick, allspice, and salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, then cook until the meat is soft and flavorful, about 30 minutes.  Remove and discard the bay leaf and cinnamon stick.  Cool the mixture and then fold in the beaten egg whites and 2 Tbs. bread crumbs and blend well.

4)  Make a thick white sauce by melting the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat.  Form a roux by stirring in the flour and cook until very light golden, about 3 minutes.  Take the saucepan off the heat and slowly whisk in the milk.  Return to a medium heat and cook until thick, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding the grated cheese at some point.  Reduce the heat if it is bubbling.  Stir in some grated nutmeg and the egg yolks.  Turn heat off.

5)  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9×12-2 inch baking dish and sprinkle 1 Tbs. of the bread crubs over the bottom, shaking and tilting the dish so all sides are lightly coated with bread crumbs.  Line the bottom of the baking dish with two layers of eggplant slices, cover with the meat sauce, and later the remaining eggplant slices on top.  Cover with the white sauce and then sprinkle the remaining 1 TBS. of bread crumbs ont top.  Bake until the top is golden, almost 30 minutes.  Remove from oven.  As there still may be a good deal of fat remaining, cut out a 2-inch section from the moussaka in one of the corners then rest the baking dish in a tilted position so that the liquid runs to the corner.  Spoon out the liquid fat and then continue to let the fat run into the corner for another 30 minutes.  Place the moussaka in a warm oven until ready to serve.

Makes 6 servings.

 

Moussaka from Greek Cooking for the Gods, by Eva Zane, with slight modifications

  • 3 eggplants
  • 2 lbs. ground lamb or ground beef
  • 2 onions chopped
  • 1 garlic clove minced
  • cinnamon
  • nutmet
  • 1/2 tsp fines herbes
  • 2 Tbs fresh parsley
  • 1 can tomato sauce (8 oz.)
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • olive oil
  • butter
  • salt and pepper
  • grated cheese  ( I used a blend of well-aged Spanish goat cheese and our favorite Irish Dubliner cheese because of our dairy intolerance.)
  • Bechamel, or White Sauce (see below)

For White/Bechamel Sauce

  • 4 cups hot milk
  • 6 Tbs. GF flour (I used Pamela’s GF baking mix)
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • salt and white pepper
  • pinch of nutmeg

Melt butter in pan, add flour, stir until smooth. Lower heat and gradually add hot milk, stirring constantly until it thickens.  Season with salt and pepper and nutmeg.

Main Recipe

1) Peel and cut eggplant lengthwise into 1/2 inch slices.  Sprinkle with salt and set aside to drain on paper towels to absorb moisture.

2) Meanwhile, prepare the meat sauce.  Saute ground meat in butter with salt, pepper, onions, and garlic , crumbling the meat with a  fork.  When the meat is evenly browned, add 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, fines herbes, parsley, and tomato sauce; stir, mix well, add wine, and simmer for 20 minutes.

3) Wipe the salted eggplant; lightly oil skillet with pastry brush (or spray oil from can) and quick fry the eggplant over very high heat; lay on paper towels to drain.  In a greased 9x13x2 inch baking pan, place a layer of eggplant, top with meat mixture, sprinkle with grated cheese, cover with the remaining eggplant, sprinkle with grated cheese again, and cover with bechamel sauce.  [ I think this was too much sauce and made the dish too wet — perhaps use only about 3 cups of that sauce]  Top moussaka lavishly with grated cheese and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  Allow to cool and then cut into 3 inch squares.

Let me know if you try this and tell me what you think, please!  I will also report back when I try the first recipe, maybe later this weekend.


 

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About tamisrenteria

Tamis Renteria, author and anthropologist, writes novels and short stories about people struggling with different religious, spiritual, and cultural traditions. She lives with her husband and youngest son in Tucson, Arizona where she types on a Mac, cooks ethnic food, and gardens among the sahuaros.
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