Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Greek Moussaka in New England (with Asian Eggplants)


Moussaka is a delicious casserole made with eggplant, tomatoes, and ground meat. If you like lasagna or eggplant parmigiana, but don’t want the noodles or breadcrumbs because you’re cutting out refined flour, carbs, grain, or gluten, you should try this dish. The flavors in this dish combine the Arabian, where I often find lamb and cinnamon in a tomato sauce, and the Greek, with its fresh parsley, oregano, and lemon. I’m so addicted that I just made it last week, and I really hope there’s more eggplant in the share I pick up this afternoon, because I’ve already got the lamb thawing for another batch. I am definitely making moussaka again this week.

Although best known as a Greek dish, moussaka is known throughout the region: in the Balkans, including Greece; the eastern Mediterranean; and the Middle East. Claudia Roden writes in “The New Book of Middle Eastern Food” that in the Arab nations where moussaka is made, it’s generally made without the bechamel: the white sauce. The Wikipedia article on moussaka mentions other variations, such as the Turkish, which adds peppers and does not layer the dish. Tyler Florence’s Greek Moussaka recipe, the one I started with, is also made without the bechamel, so this is not a classically Greek moussaka. And since I made it in the United States and Mr. Florence and I are both American cooks, I guess that makes this an American moussaka.

I made enough modifications to warrant re-documenting the recipe here. Although his recipe uses three large, Italian-style eggplants, peeled and fried, I substituted the long, thin Asian eggplant. I don’t bother to peel them: the skins are not unpleasant. Instead of frying the slices, I roasted them in my new cast iron roasting pan with salt and olive oil until they were golden brown. I used my own tomato sauce rather than a can of tomatoes, and didn’t trust a recipe that has me crumble whole lemon slices, pith and all, into the mix, so I juiced my half lemon in.

I served this with green salad and broad beans sauteed in butter. Keep in mind that the serving of moussaka should look fairly generous, because eggplant and tomatoes are both low calorie vegetables and make up the bulk of the dish. I shoot for between a quarter and a third of a pound of meat in a serving.

Moussaka in New England (with Asian Eggplant)
Serves 6-8

5-6 large Asian eggplants (the long, thin kind; may substitute any kind), sliced into ¼” slices and on a bias to make slices that are several inches long
¼ cup or more olive oil
½ tsp salt
2 lbs ground lamb
1 small onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of ½ lemon
7-8 sprigs fresh oregano, marjoram, or a blend, minced
7-8 sprigs fresh parsley, minced
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 quart of ragu or marinara (or plain tomato sauce)
4 oz feta, crumbled
Romano or Parmesan cheese, grated (to taste)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees while you prepare the eggplant slices. Lightly salt (about ¼ tsp) and oil the eggplant and toss the slices in a roasting pan. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes, toss, and continue roasting, tossing every 10-20 minutes until they are a deep orange-brown color over most of the surface. Remove from the oven, turn the temperature down to 350 degrees, and set the eggplant aside until you're ready to assemble.

In a large skillet on high heat, brown the ground lamb. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until they are translucent and softened. Add the remaining salt, pepper, cinnamon, fresh herbs, and lemon juice. Stir, then add the tomato sauce. When the sauce is hot, turn off the heat.

In a casserole dish of about 9”x12”x3” dimensions, lay the ingredients by thirds to make the moussaka: a single layer of eggplant slices, then the ground meat and sauce mixture, then a crumble of feta and some grated Romano. Repeat the layers.

Bake the casserole at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Serve hot. (Also tasty eaten by the bite, cold, from the refrigerator.)
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