Moussaka Made Easy

I recently ran across an article in the Dining section of the New York Times which piqued my interest. The recipe was for a relatively easy version of the Greek dish, moussaka. This Greek dish is one of my favorites to consume, but certainly low on my list of production, simply because it’s rather complicated and time-consuming. Sure, if I had a professional kitchen, like my daughter’s godfather has on one of the Greek isles in the Aegean, making moussaka would not seem as daunting. However, in my small New York City kitchen, it has remained a distant dish.

For those of you unaware of what exactly moussaka is, it is a casserole of minced meat and sliced potatoes and eggplant, with a generous helping of thick bechamel sauce on top. It’s certainly not the healthiest of dinner options, but it tastes divine and is a fantastic, stick-to-your-ribs winter dish. The following, simplified recipe is more of a shepherd’s pie than an authentic moussaka, however, it still stays pretty true to its original tastes. My Greek husband was actually completely silent while he consumed this dish the last time I made it, and he had second and third helpings. Need I say more?

Most farmer’s markets are still selling various types of eggplant, so feel free to combine a few different varieties. I used ground beef, however, ground lamb works just as nicely and adds another dimension of taste. Just be sure to drain a bit of the fat off that will accumulate when cooking the lamb, as its fat content is higher than beef.

Yield: 6-8 main dish portions

4 small eggplants, halved and sliced into 1/2″ pieces
1 1/2 lb. potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1″ cubes
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/3 c. whole milk
4 Tbl. unsalted butter
2 large eggs, preferably organic
3/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese (you could also use Greek kefalotiri cheese, if it is available)
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 lb. ground beef or lamb
1 lg. red or yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
2 dried bay leaves
3/4 c. ground or crushed can tomato
1 Tbl. sugar
1/2 c. fresh parsley, chopped
3 Tbl. bread crumbs, preferably whole wheat
olive oil
salt, pepper

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place the chopped eggplant into a colander and sprinkle with some salt. Allow the eggplant to sit for about 15  minutes, while the moisture inside the eggplant begins to be released. Drain off any excess liquid that accumulates. Arrange the eggplant onto a baking tray, and toss with enough olive oil to generously coat all the pieces. Add about 1/8 c. of water to the bottom of the pan, but be sure not to add too much water, or else the eggplant won’t roast properly. Place the eggplant into the preheated oven, and allow to roast for about 30-40 minutes. Occasionally shake the pan, so that the eggplant pieces don’t bake hard onto the tray. Once the eggplant is cooked through, remove from the oven and set aside. Turn down the heat to 400°F, or, if you prefer, shut off the oven and reheat right before you begin to assemble the moussaka in the baking dish.

Place the peeled, chopped potatoes into a large pot, filled with water about an inch above the potatoes. Add about 1 Tbl. of salt. Set aside.

As the eggplants roast in the oven, add the chopped onion and garlic to a large sauté pan with a good glug or two of olive oil on medium-high heat. When the onion and garlic begin to soften, after 2-3 minutes, add the ground meat, breaking the meat into small pieces as it browns. Add the cloves, cinnamon stick, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the tomato and sprinkle the sugar over the mixture. Add the bay leaves. Stir together. Lower the heat to low. Cover the pan and allow to gently simmer. After about 10 minutes, you may need to add some water, about 1/4 c. at a time, to the sauce, as you don’t want it to thicken too quickly. The sauce should be ready in about 20 minutes, however, if you have the time, allow it to cook longer, about 30-40 minutes, so the flavors meld together more. Turn off the heat, and stir in the roasted eggplant. Quickly beat in one egg, so it doesn’t begin to cook separately in the sauce. Stir in the chopped parsley.

While the sauce cooks, start boiling the pot of water with the potatoes. You may want to cover the pot to get it boiling more quickly, but once it begins to boil, remove the cover and turn down the heat slightly. Whisk one egg, the milk, and 1/2 c. of the grated cheese together in a small bowl. Set aside. After about 15-20 minutes, the potatoes should be soft enough to easily poke a fork through. Drain the potatoes in a colander, then replace back into the pot. Add the egg/milk mixture, along with some salt, pepper, the ground nutmeg, and the butter to the cooked potatoes. Mash together, making sure not to leave any large chunks of potatoes. Cover; set aside.

Using a 9-10″ square baking dish, pour in the meat and eggplant sauce, making sure it coats the bottom evenly. Spoon the mashed potato mixture evenly on top of the sauce. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 c. of cheese and the bread crumbs over the top. Place in the oven, and after about 30 minutes, when the top has browned nicely, remove. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

This dish keeps well in the fridge, and honestly, tastes good cold, at room temperature, or hot. Kind of like pizza, I guess. But that’s just my opinion. I have prepared the moussaka completely, and then, because of time constraints, left the baking for a couple of hours later. You could always make a much larger portion and freeze half for a later time. There’s nothing like knowing in the back of your head that an entire dinner awaits you in the freezer, saving you tons of time and energy. And I know we could all use that once in a while!

I hope you enjoy this dish as much I do. Feel free to let us know by posting a comment or writing to us at: twodancingbuckeyes@gmail.com   Happy eating!

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