Monday, August 4, 2008

A Summer Moussaka

I love eggplant! I ate it frequently while growing up in my Greek household. My mom often made simple, fried eggplant slices as a side dish vegetable. It's still my favorite way to eat it. And then there were those special dinners of fried eggplant, cooked whole beets, fried fish, and Skorthalia, a fresh garlic sauce. My dad & grandma used to love those meals. We'd often have Melintzanoslata, a delicious eggplant spread similar to Baba Ganoush. Of course, no self respecting Greek could ignore Moussaka. It's a sumptuous casserole of eggplant slices layered in a cinnamon perfumed tomato sauce and topped with a Parmesan flavored egg custard.

Saturday at the farmer's market I picked up three perfectly fresh eggplants, two purple beauties and one striped zebra. Yesterday I decided to fry them up. First I sliced them about 1/3 - 1/2 inch thick. I don't like thin eggplant slices because I think that by the time they're coated with either breading or sauce, the eggplant flavor is lost. I dredged the slices in flour seasoned with some garlic powder & crushed dried Greek oregano. I fried them in oil until they were nicely browned on both sides. A perfect accompaniment to our lunch of fresh tomato & sweet onion sandwiches.

There were several slices left over, so I started thinking about Moussaka. Hmmm! I had a blob of ground beef in the refrigerator that I needed to use up. I've already got fried eggplant slices. Could I possibly come up with something that didn't require a 9 x 12" casserole dish and a full hour of baking in the oven? After all, it's summer. It's hot. And I had already spent the morning baking my weekly batches of Oatmeal Scones and Bran Muffins. I wondered... Could I make Moussaka stacks, plopping everything on the individual eggplant slices? I decided to give it a try and pulled out my Moussaka recipe.

The first thing I did was make the tomato sauce. I had just about 1/3 pound of ground beef so I halved all the other sauce ingredients. I omitted salt, used a low sodium tomato paste & leftover Trader Joe's low sodium chicken broth, and added 1 teaspoon of red wine vinegar for added punch. I cooked the meat sauce down until there was almost no liquid left.

Then I made the bechamel sauce. I halved its ingredients too. Since I was planning on topping individual slices of eggplant, I figured the custard mixture needed to be thicker than what I usually poured over the casserole top. Instead of adding whole eggs to the cream sauce, I just added two egg yolks. I also omitted salt and used about two tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese.

Finally, I put everything together. I used four eggplant slices. I covered each slice with the meat sauce and then the cream sauce custard mixture. Popped the slices into my toaster oven for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Then I broiled them for a couple of minutes to brown the tops. Perfect! They tasted great AND the house was still cool.

I had a bit of the cream sauce mixture left over and,of course, the two egg whites. I'm planning on using them today in an omelet lunch. All in all, I think the experiment was a success. A casserole full of Moussaka is an impressive dish for guests but a little too much for just a simple evening meal for two. This method worked out really well, and I know I'll be making it more often. Especially now that eggplants are showing up in the farmer's markets.

Moussaka: Greek Eggplant Casserole

A classic Greek dish, famous throughout the world, and a favorite at Greek restaurants and festivals. Delicious eggplant layered with a spicy tomato sauce and topped off with a Parmesan flavored egg custard. A feast for the eyes and the palate!

Meat Sauce:
1 pound lean ground beef or lamb
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 – 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 6-ounce can.tomato paste
¾-1 cup water or NSA broth (may substitute up to ½ cup wine for water or broth)
teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon Greek oregano
Salt & pepper to taste

3 large eggplants
Vegetable oil
Flour (optional)
Egg (optional)

Cream Sauce:
½ cup flour
½ cup butter
2 cups warmed milk
4 eggs, beaten
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
Dash nutmeg

Meat Sauce Preparation:
Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent; do not brown. In separate pan, brown ground beef or lamb; drain well. Add browned ground meat, tomato paste, water, broth, or wine, nutmeg, allspice cinnamon, and oregano to onion mixture.

Simmer about 20 minutes over medium heat; sauce will not be juicy. 

Cream Sauce Preparation:
Melt butter and stir in flour. Cook over medium/low heat, stirring until mixture is well blended and bubbling. Off heat, add warmed milk slowly and stir continuously until sauce is well blended and thickened. Sauce will be quite thick. Allow sauce to cool. Add beaten eggs to sauce; stir until all sauce is blended with eggs. Stir in ¼ cup Parmesan cheese and dash nutmeg.
Eggplant Preparation:
If desired, peel eggplant. Slice into 1/3 - 1/2 inch rounds. Choose a browning method for eggplant:
Baked – Brush eggplant slices with oil and bake in 425° oven, turning once, until both sides are golden brown (about 10 minutes per side); do not overcook.
Broiled – Brush eggplant slices with oil and broil, turning once, until both sides are golden brown (about 5-7 minutes per side); do not overcook.
Fried – Coat the eggplant pieces generously with flour (if desired, dip slices in egg wash and flour a second time); heat oil in a skillet and fry eggplant, turning once, until golden brown; do not overcook; drain well on paper towels.
Moussaka Assembly:
Brush bottom and sides of deep 13 x 9 inch baking dish with olive oil. Place ½ of eggplant slices onto bottom of pan; cut slices to fit so that the entire surface is completely covered with eggplant. Spoon meat mixture over eggplant. Top with remaining eggplant slices; cut slices to fit so that the entire surface is completely covered with eggplant. Pour cream sauce over all; spread evenly to completely cover all the eggplant.
Bake at 350° for 60 minutes (the top should be set, slightly puffy, and nicely browned). Let rest for 15 minutes before cutting into serving pieces.
For easier serving and a firmer texture, potatoes may be substituted for part or for all of the eggplant. Peel and cut potatoes lengthwise into ⅓-½ inch thick slices; sauté  slices lightly in olive oil. Potato slices may also be brushed lightly with olive oil and baked. If using a combination of eggplant and potatoes, place potato layer on bottom of casserole.
Summer Squash:
Summer squash (zucchini, crookneck, pattypan, etc.)  may be substituted for part or for all of the eggplant. Cut squash lengthwise into ⅓-½ inch thick slices and either bake, broil, or fry as the eggplant before assembling the casserole. Do not overcook squash, and do not use overgrown squash with large seeds.


OhioMom said...

Oh yeah, I am loving this idea ... I am attempting to make smaller meals also, and this is just perfect!

Since I don't do beef, maybe just a veggie/tomato sauce over top the eggplant? Or some ground chicken?
Oh yes, the possibilities .. so glad you experimented!

I am glad to see you enjoy mater sandwiches like me :) As soon as the home-grown maters show up this becomes my standard lunch in the summertime.

shambo said...

To paraphrase Aunt Voula from "My Big, Fat Greek Wedding," if you don't want to eat beef, you can use lamb!

Yes, I love summer tomato sandwiches. Plain on whole wheat bread with just mayo, with thinly sliced sweet onion and/or avocado added, and even with a slice of Swiss cheese. I also like to do open-faced sandwiches layering tomatoes, onion, & a bit of shredded cheese and then broiling everything until the cheese is bubbly & lightly browned.

During the summer I know that if I've got some tomatoes,I've got a meal. I'm not growing my own this year, but the local farmer's markets have plenty of varieties for me to choose from.

Lucy said...

Your moussaka looks so good & yummy!!

And... fresh tomato sandwiches! Only time of the year I eat tomatoes, fresh from the garden. Main reasons for having a veggie garden are the tomatoes ;-)

Anonymous said...

This was great. I ate it. I know!