Moussaka with Eggplant, a Greek and Turkish Delight

Moussaka with Eggplant, a Greek and Turkish Delight

What can be more Greek than “Moussaka”? Actually the word came from Turkish, and Turks make the dish too. But actually the name is originally Arab and centuries old, rather than either Greek or Turkish; though the Arab dish is a little different from what we know as Moussaka in the West.

Layers of sliced eggplant covered by a chopped meat sauce, then by a potato-containing béchamel, topped with cheese is the most familiar moussaka. But there is a version with sliced zucchini rather than eggplant, and a winter version with sliced potato. The Greek style of Moussaka typically has red wine cooked into the meat layer, while the Turkish one, due to Islamic restrictions on alcohol, contains no wine.

Here is a Greek style of Moussaka, with a simple cinnamon-scented tomato sauce for the condiment. The recipe serves six to eight, though leftovers are delightful.

2 medium-large purple eggplants
Salt for soaking
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 pounds ground beef or lamb, 85% lean
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup red wine
2 teaspoons salt
1 bay leaf
1-1/2 teaspoons oregano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/3 cup crushed tomatoes (Hunt’s brand) from a 14-ounce can (save the rest for a sauce, below)
3/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup flour
4 cups milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 cup instant (dry) mashed potatoes
1/4 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

Cut ends off eggplants. With vegetable peeler peel narrow strips of skin off the eggplants from top to bottom on 4 sides of the vegetable. Slice eggplants across 1/2-inch thick and soak in salted water (3 tablespoons salt to 3 quarts of water) for half an hour, mixing occasionally.

In a heavy pot, fry the onion with the ground meat and garlic until color has fully changed. Stir in the salt, seasonings, wine and tomatoes. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Let cool.

In a separate pot, cook olive oil and flour stirring with a whisk, to make a roux. Cook about 2 minutes. Add milk and cream and whisk as the mixture heats and thickens. Whisk in salt to taste, the pepper and nutmeg. Remove from heat, and mix in the instant mashed potatoes.

Oil a large casserole dish. Drain eggplant well and layer it over the bottom of the dish. Spoon meat mixture over the eggplant and smooth out this layer. Spoon béchamel-potato mixture over this and smooth the top, bring it to the edge of the casserole. Sprinkle with the grated cheese.

Bake in 350-degree oven, using a lower shelf, 30-45 minutes, or until bubbling on the sides and the top browns to a medium-dark golden color. Remove from the oven and let rest for at least ten minutes.

Cut into squares to serve, lifting the pieces out with a metal spatula. Top with tomato sauce when serving (recipe below).

Tomato sauce for Moussaka

2 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes (minus the 1/3 cup used with the meat, above)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus to taste
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Cook onion in oil until softened. Add crushed tomato and seasonings. Simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and add salt, if needed.

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