About ten days ago I took my first stab at mousakka. We were having dinner guests and I thought it would be a good time to try out this classically Greek dish and kick-off my middle eastern cooking experiment. Mousakka is such a classic mediterranean dish and yet appears on menus all over the world. I tried to do a little research on the history of this dish but it’s a little fuzzy. The Greeks seem to contend that it was introduced to Greece by Arab traders when they first brought eggplant to Europe. This made me curious about eggplant and I found that it is native to India and is actually classified as a berry! Along with the mousakka I served a fresh simple chopped salad and bulgar wheat (a first for me). It was really delicious and, although it is quite a bit of work, it is so delicious.
Mousakka (adapted from Joseph Erdos’s recipe here: http://www.gastronomersguide.com/2009/08/moussaka.html)
There are three parts to this: the eggplant layers, the meat filling, and the béchemal sauce. Everything but the béchemal can be prepared ahead of time and then assembled when you need it).
- 6 long globe eggplants
- olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 medium white or yellow onions, finely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 pounds ground meat (either beef or lamb)
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 10-15 tomatoes
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (if using lamb, this can be omitted)
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped finely
- 1/2 cup fresh oregano, chopped finely
- freshly ground black pepper
- 6 tablespoons butter, softened
- 6 tablespoons flour
- 3 cups milk
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- freshly ground pepper
- 14 ounces Kefalotyri cheese (or pecorino Romano or pecorino Tuscano) grated
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Wash and trim the eggplant, removing stems. Slice lengthwise into 1/2 inch slices. Pat with a paper towel to absorb excess moisture. Salt and pepper both sides. Some recipes recommend letting the salted eggplant drain in a colander over a sink for 30 minutes and then rinsing and pressing with a paper cloth. I did 1/2 the eggplant this way, the other half I just patted down, salted, and then fried and I really didn’t notice a difference. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and fry each eggplant slice until golden on both sides, approximately 4 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
To prepare the meat filling, bring several quarts of water to a boil in a large pot boil. Once the water is boiling, submerge tomatoes for about 30 seconds, until the skins break. Remove tomatoes and slip off their skins – which should easily slide off. Remove stems and woody parts and crush tomatoes in a bowl or pot, reserving juice. Set aside. If you’d rather simplify this process, you could use 2 15oz cans of chopped or crushed tomatoes. I happened to have some tomatoes that I needed to use, and making your own crushed tomatoes is so easy and you preserve more of the nutrients.
In a large, heavy frying pan melt butter and add olive oil. Sauté the chopped onion and garlic until aromatic and softened, about 4-6 minutes. Add the beef and cook until it loses any pink and is nicely browned. Add the tomatoes, wine, and cinnamon. Simmer until the liquid is reduced, about 30 minutes.
Once the liquid has reduced add the parsley and oregano. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Now you’re ready to assemble your moussaka. In a 9 x 13 inch pan, drizzle a bit of olive oil and spread it around the bottom and sides to prevent sticking (there really isn’t a lot of risk of sticking, but it’s worth doing just in case). Next line the bottom with the first layer of eggplant. Make sure the sides of each slice overlap so that the pan is covered. Spread 1/2 of the meat mixture on top of the eggplant. Add your second layer of eggplant, topped with the remainder of the meat.
Cover the meat with the last of the eggplant.
Now you can make your béchamel sauce. Make a paste of the butter and flour. This will help eliminate lumps in the sauce so make sure the flour and butter are thoroughly mixed. In a large saucepan bring the milk to a boil. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter/flour paste. Make sure you whisk thoroughly and keep whisking until the ingredients are completely incorporated. Next whisk in the nutmeg and one half of the grated cheese. Whisk until cheese is melted and the sauce is nice and creamy. Salt to taste. Finally pour sauce over your moussaka.
Place moussaka in oven and cook for 30-40 minutes, until bubbling on the sides and hot all through. The béchamel sauce should be nicely browned at this point but keep an eye on it. If it browns too quickly, cover with tin foil until the last few minutes of cooking. At this point you can place it under the grill and watch closely as it browns.
Remove from oven and let set for 15-20 minutes. Some recipes recommend that you serve with marinara sauce – but this is plenty flavorful on its own.
I will post the bulgar wheat recipe tomorrow – it’s really yummy.