Moussaka (moo-sa-KAH) is a delicious Greek dish of lamb and eggplant and tomatoes, topped with a light, fluffy custard. My mom (and no, we're not Greek, we just like good food) used to make it when we were kids, and we loved it. I have no idea why it's taken me this long to make it for my family. But anyway – I've rectified that!
We had a nice little selection of eggplants – miniature dark purple-skinned ones, pale green, and long, skinny light purple Japanese ones. I needed just a pound and a half, and the dark purple and pale green eggplants were plenty. I'll do something else with the other ones.
Now, I could have sworn I had a recipe for Moussaka that I'd copied from my mother's recipe collection, but instead of looking through notebooks filled with recipes in my once-legible handwriting, I consulted a cookbook I've had for a long, long time, figuring that Moussaka would be found somewhere between the covers.
And I was right.
The book is Barron's Good Old Food by Irena Chalmers and Friends. I bought this maybe 18-20 years ago (ugh! that long!) when I worked for B. Dalton Booksellers. It doesn't seem to be available in hardcover now, but I guess that doesn't really matter. I do remember that I bought a copy for my mother as well as for myself. And the reason was another recipe in the book – another meal my mom cooked now and then – Steak and Kidney Pie. That sold me on the book. I love Steak and Kidney Pie. Hmmm…I should make that some time soon, too.
Back to the Moussaka. Sure enough, there was a recipe for Moussaka in this book on page 76 (hardcover edition) - a mere 12 pages after the Steak and Kidney Pie recipe, incidentally. I took a look through the ingredients, and yep, they sounded right. I had everything on hand but the ground lamb. I had some ground beef in the freezer, but you just CANNOT use beef in place of lamb. It doesn't taste the same; it doesn't taste right, at least not for this dish. So I bought lamb, and I was good to go.
Here's what you'll need:
1 1/2 lbs eggplant
1/4 cup salt
3 T butter
2 small onions, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 lbs ground lamb
28-oz can whole tomatoes, drained, juice reserved
3 T tomato paste
1 tsp dried thyme (I used about a tablespoon of fresh)
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup vegetable oil (I didn't use this much – it's just for frying the eggplant – I just brushed the griddle surface with oil for each batch)
1 cup light cream (I had heavy. I used it.)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
You'll also need some kind of casserole dish. I used a Pyrex 13" x 9" pan, but something deeper but not as wide and long would work nicely, too. You'd get more layers out of the deal. But I'm getting ahead of myself….
Here's what you do:
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Slice the eggplant lengthwise and spread the slices on paper towels. Sprinkle with half the salt and let them drain for 10 to 15 minutes. Turn the pieces over and repeat with the remaining salt.
Heat the butter in a large pan over moderate heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until they are softened and translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the lamb and continue to cook for about 10 minutes or until the meat is no longer pink.
Chop the tomatoes coarsely and add them to the meat.
Stir in the tomato paste, half the reserved tomato juice, the thyme, nutmeg and pepper. Cook over moderate heat for 5 minutes. Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper if desired.
Pat the eggplant slices dry with paper towels. Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a large skillet, add a third of the eggplant slices and fry until golden brown on both sides. Remove them from the skillet with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Fry the remaining batches of eggplant slices in the same way.
Place alternate layers of meat
and eggplant in an ovenproof casserole, ending with a layer of eggplant.
Cover and bake in the 350 degree oven for 40 minutes.
Whisk together the eggs and the cream in a small bowl. Stir in the cheese.
Remove the lid from the casserole and pour the egg mixture over the top of the moussaka.
(Sorry about the blur – I was rushing a bit.)
Return it to the oven and cook for a further 15 minutes, uncovered, until the topping is puffed and golden.
The whole family enjoyed this. Well. It took some time for Alex to fully appreciate the entire thing. He picked the lamb out at first, but eventually discovered how wonderful it tastes when you have a bite with all the different components represented therein. Julia liked the frothy custardy top part the best. Bill had a couple helpings, and some for lunch the next day. And me? I could have eaten the whole thing all by myself. Yes. It's really that good.