Saturday, September 12, 2009


By Country Girl

Who hosts a Greek wine tasting party? NO ONE. Except me. Because oh yeah I am trying to drink 100 wine varietals and that means I have to knock off some pretty obscure grapes like Moschofilero, Roditis, Savatiano, Agiorghitiko and Mavrodaphne. And if one is going to sit around and drink random Greek wine, shouldn't one have the appropriate cuisine to go with it? I really wanted to serve Saganaki but frankly me and flambe don't mix so I opted for that traditional Greek classic Moussaka.

OMG Y'all - why have I never made Moussaka before? Seriously - it's off the hook delicious. Also? Why the hell do I own this cookbook?

I have no idea. It's not like I am way into Greek food (although after this party I might be). But for whatever reason I own Rena Salaman's Little Greek Cookbook and that was my primary source for my Moussaka although I altered the recipe ever so slightly because 1) my kitchen situation is a bit abnormal right now and believe it or not, I don't have the necessary equipment to fry 2 pounds of eggplant (or aubergines as Rena calls them) and 2) I love cheese. She just did not call for enough cheese in her recipe.

So what is Moussaka? It's basically a layered casserole of eggplant, ground beef or lamb seasoned with tomatoes and spices, bechamel sauce and cheese. I saw recipes that included potatoes and zucchini and I am pretty sure you could doctor this up any way you wanted to but I pretty much stuck with this basic version.

To start, you will need 2 pounds of eggplant, trimmed and sliced in 1/4-inch thick slices. Immerse the eggplant slices in lightly salted water for 20 - 30 minutes.

What this does is draw out the eggplant's natural bitterness and trust me when I say - DON'T SKIP THIS STEP. In fact, you should always disgorge eggplant (that's what it's called - disgorging. Who's a show off with her fancy shmancy cooking terms? Not me.) because otherwise you will wind up with something bitter and nasty and OMG y'all - maybe this is why so many people have eggplant issues. Seriously.

Anyways, once the eggplant slices have soaked, remove them from the water, rinse them off and pat dry. Now you have 2 choices: Rena calls for lightly frying the eggplant slices in sunflower oil until lightly golden on both sides. I would have been frying eggplant til 2am so I actually brushed my eggplant slices with sunflower oil and threw them on the grill:

All I will say is this: grilled eggplant totally works but it's your call.

Next: take 1 large onion which has been finely diced and throw it in a pan with some sunflower oil. Cook for a few minutes until transparent and then add 1 pound of either ground beef, ground lamb, or a mixture. I went with straight lamb but ground lamb is not exactly available everywhere. Saute until it starts to brown and then add the following:

* 1 14-oz. can of tomatoes, finely chopped
* 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
* 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
* 1 tsp. dried oregano
* salt and pepper to taste.

So I added the tomato paste. Rena does not call for it. But I had seen it in another recipe and I liked the idea. Also? I am not the kind of girl to actually measure spices. I may have added a wee bit more than 1/4 tsp. of ground cinnamon and I will tell you what - a wee bit more is just the right amount. Cover the meat mixture and let it cook for 20 - 30 minutes until it is quite dry - like this:

Set it aside to cool.

To make the bechamel, melt 3/4 of a stick of butter in a heavy saucepan. Add 1/4 cup of plain flour and stir until well incorporated. Remove from the heat and add 2 cups of warm milk while stirring. Return to the heat, add a pinch of salt, and stir continuously for 8 - 10 minutes until the sauce thickens. Once it's thick, take off the heat and whisk in 1 egg yolk. Voila - bechamel:

Line a medium-sized baking dish (10x10) with the eggplant slices and season them:

Next, spread the cooled meat mixture evenly over them:

Cover with the bechamel:

Sprinkle with 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese:

Again - this is where Rena and I had a slight disagreement. She calls for 2 Tbsp. of grated cheese on top. I saw recipes that called for as much as 3 cups. In the end, we compromised and went for 1 cup and it was perfect.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 - 50 minutes until crisp and golden.

Let it rest for 10 minutes and then cut into squares and serve. OPA!

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