Moussaka – my kids just love saying it – “MOO saka”
A couple of weeks ago I decided to challenge myself by trying at least one new recipe from a different cookbook every two weeks. My goal is to experience some of the great recipes contained in my underused collection and break out of my typical cooking routine.
I encouraged you to take up the same challenge and let me know what recipes you are trying at home. See The Reluctant Gourmet’s Cookbook Challenge.
For my next recipe, I decided to pick a classic from one of my favorite cookbooks, New Recipes From Moosewood Restaurant, published back in 1987 and given to me for Christmas in 1990 by my good friend Rania B. On the inside cover page I noticed she wrote, “to the best darn soup-maker this side of the Mississippi!”
Now that’s nice to read again. I haven’t picked up this book in awhile but I will definitely revisit it to work on some of the great soup recipes featured in this cookbook.
Many of you might remember the original Moosewood Cookbook written by Mollie Katzen back in 1978 and published by the Ten Speed Press, now publishers of many great cookbooks. My wife brought a copy of it into our marriage, and it is a great source for vegetarian recipes.
The Moosewood Cookbook was named to the Cookbook Hall of Fame by the James Beard Foundation back in 2007, and the New York Times listed it as one of the top ten selling cookbooks of all time.
What is Moussaka?
Moussaka is a Middle Eastern dish that is basically an eggplant casserole. Although there are many versions from different countries, the basic dish is comprised of eggplant, tomato and some minced meat.
The more popular and widely known Greek version includes layers of eggplant and meat topped with a white sauce. The entire dish is then baked. It’s kind of like a Greek lasagna, with the part of the lasagna noodles being played by eggplant.
As with many dishes, I’ve found many variations on moussaka. Some versions use pork, some lamb. Cream sauce is popular, but so is a layer of yogurt mixed with eggs and flour.
Some versions even substitute potatoes for the eggplant. This vegetarian version uses eggplant and zucchini, tomato sauce and a custard-like Bechamel sauce.
The recipe shows you how to make a simple tomato sauce that takes about 30 minutes to prepare, but you can easily substitute your own favorite or family tomato sauce recipe.
And for those of you who like shortcuts, you may want to try your favorite commercial brand. I do recommend that you make an attempt at your own sauce, though, because you will know exactly what is in it.
We served this version of Moussaka with a roasted leg of lamb, and roasted potatoes, but as good as the Moussaka was the night we prepared it, it was even better the next day with leftover lamb, potato gnocchi and fresh steamed Brussels sprouts. It was ridiculously good!
For the Sauce
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups onions about 2 medium, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced or pressed
- 4 large tomatoes chopped
- 1 large green pepper chopped
- 1½ teaspoons fresh dill ½ teaspoon dried
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons fresh parsley chopped
- salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 large eggplant sliced in ½ inch thick circles
- 1 large zucchini sliced in ½ inch thick circles
- olive oil for sautéing
- ⅓ cup butter
- ⅓ cup unbleached white flour
- 2 cups milk heated
- 2 egg yolks beaten
- pinch nutmeg preferably freshly
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1 cup feta cheese 5 ounces
- ¾ cup bread crumbs
- Parmesan cheese freshly grated
- fresh parsley chopped
- Start by making the tomato sauce. Saute the onions for a couple of minutes and then add the garlic and continue sautéing until the onions are translucent.
- Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and simmer uncovered for approximately 30 minutes.
- Prepare the eggplant by placing the slices onto an oiled baking sheet. Season with some salt, then cover with aluminum foil and bake at 375°F until tender. This will take about 30 minutes.
- While the eggplant is baking, sauté the zucchini slices in oil until tender.
- To prepare the custard that goes on top of this dish, heat the milk in onc saucepan and melt the butter over medium heat in another. Add the flour to the butter to make a roux, and cook for 3 minutes being careful to continuously whisk the mixture so it does not burn on the bottom of the pan.
- Slowly add the hot milk while constantly whisking until it starts to become a thick but smooth sauce.
- Remove the sauce from the heat and let it cool for approximately 10 minutes.
- Whisk in the egg yolks and nutmeg.
- Season to taste with salt & pepper.
To Assemble the Moussaka
- You'll need a deep baking dish approximately 9" x 13" x 2" that has been oiled. Spread about half the homemade tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan and then layer the eggplant slices, half the feta cheese, half the breadcrumbs and the remainder of the tomato sauce.
- On top of this, add the zucchini slices and the remaining feta cheese and breadcrumbs. The custard goes on top of everything but then is topped with a bit of Parmesan cheese and the freshly chopped parsley.
- Throw the pan into the preheated oven and bake uncovered at 375°F for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until bubbly and golden.
- Be sure to let the casserole to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.