I love eggplants. My husband–hmmm– not so much. My kids will eat anything. I usually don’t announce the fact that there are eggplants in any menu items and if asked I pretend I have hearing loss..”what did you say? Oh, why does it taste like eggplant?” (that’s the evasive maneuver). We haven’t had eggplants for a while and I was inspired by coolcookstyle‘s amazing eggplant flatbread recipe she came up with for a recent cooking challenge. I found some wonderful Japanese eggplants and decided to make Moussaka.
One of the matriarchs of the Greek community here in Salt Lake City, Georgia Katsanavas, is a great cook and I have had a copy of her recipe for years have eaten moussaka many times but never actually made the dish myself. I decided to look through the recipe and see if I had all the ingredients…I did, but I decided to add and change a few things…this is NOT Georgia’s original dish for those who are lovers of her amazing food, but it is definitely based on her recipe.
This is not a weeknight dish because it takes a bit of time. It’s also kind of rich, so it’s not a monthly recipe either. That being said, this will definitely be on my list of things to make for special dinners or occasions. It came out incredible and tasted heavenly. One of those dishes where you take a bite and close your eyes at the same time and make a MMMMM noise. Like my friend Ernie would say, “It’s slap yo mama good!” I had a wonderful Sunday dinner and Grantley got past the fact that there were eggplants in it….it was that good!
4-5 firm Japanese eggplants, sliced lengthwise
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 pounds ground extra lean ground beef (traditionally lamb is used)
1 large onion
1 large red bell pepper
4-5 cloves garlic, grated or minced
1 inch piece of ginger, grated
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup red or marsala wine
28 ounces of canned diced tomatoes, pureed in a blender
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
handful of fresh flat leafed parsley
fresh oregano, about 1 tbsp chopped
Some honey (optional)
6 tbsp butter
1/2 cup flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup goat cheese
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (reserved for sprinkling on top)
1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
Slice the eggplants length wise and sprinkle each piece with a little salt and let them sit for 15 – 20 minutes.
In the meantime heat a medium-sized sauce pan with 2 tbsp of olive oil and saute onion, bell pepper, garlic and ginger together. When vegetables are tender add in meat and begin cooking until no longer pink. Add in cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cayenne pepper and salt and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add in tomato paste and wine and mix to incorporate. Let it simmer for 4-5 minutes until all the wine has evaporated. Add in the pureed tomatoes and let it simmer gently to let the flavors marry and some of the liquid evaporate, about 10-15 minutes. Add in parsley, oregano and a couple of tablespoons of honey (if needed to balance out the acid of the tomatoes) before taking off the heat.
Using a paper towel soak up all the excess water off the eggplants (the salt should have drawn that out). Brush lightly with about 4 tbsp olive oil and grill on a hot grill (or you can roast them in a 375° oven for about 20 minutes) about 2 minutes on each side or until nice and tender.
Prepare the Bechamel sauce:
In a medium sauce pan heat the butter. Using a rubber spatula or whisk mix in the flour and keep stirring until it’s a light golden brown color and the flour flavor is gone. Slowly add in the milk and the bay leaf. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Add in the ricotta and goat cheese, nutmeg and salt. Turn off heat and stir until all the cheese is melted and nicely incorporated. Take out the bay leaf.
Spray with cooking spray a deep 9 x 13 pan. Layer the bottom with half of the eggplants. Put half of the meat mixture on top and spread evenly. Cover the meat mixture with the remaining eggplants and put the rest of the meat mixture on top. Pour the Bechamel sauce on top of the meat mixture and spread smoothly. Sprinkle the top with the Parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of nutmeg. Put completed Moussaka on a cookie sheet to catch any bubble ups and bake for 40 minutes in a pre-heated 400° oven. Serve warm.