Friday, December 31, 2010

Moussaka-ish dish

I’ve tried to figure out what Moussaka is actually supposed to look like. I’ve had so many different versions of it that I don’t know what it’s supposed to be anymore, other than that it should contain eggplant and (usually) lamb.

I did try some Moussaka in Greece, but after the whirlwind of tastes and sights and ouzo, I don’t have the faintest recollection of what the dish tasted like. So my most comfort-food memories of Moussaka are from, for better or worse, Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston. I used to work across the cobblestones from the food court and tried out everything at least once. The ones with the cheapest food that filled me up the longest were my favorites, and there really was nothing more relaxing than using my precious half hour of lunch sitting on the cold steps leading away from the food court filled with tourists and eating a thick slice of Moussaka from a Styrofoam takeout box.

This Moussaka, as far as I remember it, was sort of an eggplant-lamb lasagna covered in  a thick béchamel sauce that was crusty and gooey and rich all at the same time. I’m quite sure there were things in there that I’m not allowed to eat anymore.

I turned to the web for advice. I went through Hilarie’s two variations of Moussaka that she sent me. I consulted with Julia Child.  I asked Eric which kind of sauce he wanted, the Julia’s brown or the béchamel, and he chose the brown, so that’s what we went with. The recipe below is a combination of both of their recipes, plus a little of my own. Eric said it tasted like the Moussaka he had in Egypt, but since I’ve never been there, I’ll have to take his word on that.


Moussaka

Ingredients:
1 large eggplant, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cups mushrooms, chopped (I used portabella)
1.25 lbs ground turkey
½ can tomato paste
2 tbsp cornstarch
1-2 cups beef broth
olive oil for cooking*
buttery spread

Method:
Make tomato sauce base: ½ can of tomato paste plus ¼-1/2 cup water, depending on how saucy you like it. Stir over low heat for a few minutes until blended. Turn off the heat.
Brown onions. Add to sauce.
Saute the mushrooms in butter. Add to sauce.
Brown the eggplant. It should look slightly translucent and golden brown on most sides, but probably not all the way done. Add to sauce.
Cook the ground turkey. Add to sauce.

Preheat oven to 375.

Combine all ingredients. Simmer in cast iron skillet for a few minutes. Turn off heat and let it sit.

Make brown sauce.
Whisk 2 tablespoons cornstarch and 1 ½ cups beef broth until slightly thickened, about four  minutes.

Smooth out the thick tomato-eggplant-mushroom-turkey mixture by pressing it gently into the pan. Pour the brown sauce over it. It will look kind of gross. Resist the urge to stir it in. Bake uncovered for about 40 minutes. If you are patient enough to let it set and cool a bit before slicing into it, do so. If not, it still tastes good.

*Try not to overdo it with the oil and butter, no matter what Julia says. Cooking in a cast-iron pan tends to bring out the oil and juices, so you don’t need as much.

Below is one of Hilarie's Moussaka recipes.  

Hilarie's Moussaka
Moussaka Recipe #1

Ingredients

1 large eggplant, pared and sliced.
1/4 cup melted margarine or butter
Flour
1 pound lean chuck (ground hamburger) or lamb
1 8 oz. cans of tomato sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. garlic
1 package of dry onion soup (Lipton brand)
1 pint of sour cream
2 eggs
1 Tblsp. of parmesan cheese
olive oil- (around 1/2 total)

Method

Dip each slice of eggplant in flour and then in melted butter.
Sauté each slice for around three minutes on each side in a skillet coated with olive oil.

Lift out the slices of eggplant and set aside on a platter.  Brown the ground meat in the same pan.  Stir in the tomato sauce.  In a 2 quart casserole arrange 1/3 of the eggplant.  Top with the meat mixture.  Combine the sour cream with the onion soup, 1 tablespoon of flour, and the beaten eggs.  Spread 1/3 of this mixture over the casserole layers.  Top with the eggplant and another 1/3 of the sour cream mixture, and finally a third layer of eggplant and cover this with the remaining sour cream mixture.  Cover with the parmesan cheese.  (You can put either the canned type parmesan or fresh, shredded parmesan)  Use enough to cover the top of the casserole.  Bake 30-40 mintues at 375˚.  Serves 4 people

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