Moussaka

April 22, 2003

Moussaka

I have only ever had moussaka four times. The first time it seemed an exotic experience while I was at summer camp in Switzerland (International Summer Camp Montana). Some of the girls from Greece spent a large part of one day cooking moussaka. We were to feast on it during a special activity night. I was 16 years old and I had absolutely no idea what moussaka was. In my home, pizza was considered an ethnic dinner. We just did not get exposed to different kinds of food. The evening progressed, I ate my first moussaka and I enjoyed it!

The second time was on a family trip. I was on the verge of being 18, and all six of us Havilands were on a small cruise ship (and I mean small) in Greece. We arrived in Athens and dealt with the busy, dirty city that we needed to board from. We did have a wonderful hike to the Parthenon, but otherwise I didn’t really enjoy my visit there. But then we boarded the cruise ship and spent the next few days touring the most beautiful islands I had ever seen. We would wake up at one island, enjoy a morning there, board the ship, eat lunch and cruise to the next island, and enjoy the afternoon or evening there. Crete, and Mykonos, the beach of Lindos, the names were different from anything I knew. The white washed buildings with soft edges, the dry warmth and lack of greenery, all was tantalizing. The food was different as well. I again enjoyed moussaka, this time in it’s homeland and glory. I have vague memories of chasing it all down with some ouzo.

Many years later I needed some comfort food to indulge my memories and senses. I was 33 and had just had surgery to remove the cancer that had grown in my colon. I was a mom of a one year old but was feeling so unsure of what was going on with my future. During the recovery from my surgery, many people had brought food and were very generous in many ways. My older brother Sandy and his wife Kate had given me a gift certificate to the Ann Howard Cookery down the road. (I had worked there when I was in high school). I talked to the woman at the cookery about what kinds of things they could make for us, and on the list was moussaka! The thought of it brought back such good memories. I ordered it right away, and was delighted to have it again. It tasted so wonderful. I waited a week or so, then ordered it a second time. Again, delicious!

Being spring, I have wanted to cook some lamb, and started thinking about moussaka. I hunted down recipes on the internet and found a mere handful. I will remain on the hunt until I find something that is right. I tried a variation on a few of the recipes I found- kind of combining some of them. It was not quite what I remembered. So I am still working on it. The recipe that I made is below, but know that this is not quite right, even though it is legitimate moussaka.

I don’t remember what the first two moussakas tasted like, but were good enough to make me want it again at the next opportunity .I do know that the recipe that Ann Howard’s used was fantastic. The cookery is no longer in business, but I still want to get the recipe that they used. If anyone can get me any information about it – PLEASE let me know!!!

Moussaka
This is best made a day ahead and reheated. Takes about an hour and a half of active work time. Make sure you read through the recipe entirely before taking it on.

Bechamel:
5 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup flour
2 1/2 cups hot milk
2 eggs

Eggplant:
2 regular sized eggplants
kosher salt

Meat filling:
olive oil
1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
2 small onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tbsp oregano
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 20 ounce can chopped tomatoes, drained
1 Tbsp tomato paste

Slice the eggplant into 1/4 inch thick rounds. Salt it heavily with kosher salt and let it sit in a colander for at least 30 minutes.

Make the bechamel:
Melt the butter in a heavy, medium sized pot. Add the flour and stir constantly for 2 minutes. Slowly add the hot milk, a little at a time, whisking until smooth after each addition. Mix the eggs in a large bowl. Pour a little of the hot sauce into the eggs to temper them, then slowly and whisking, add the warmed eggs into the sauce. Remove fromt he heat and continue to whisk for several minutes to allow it to begin cooling and not let the eggs curdle!

Meat Sauce:
Pour some olive oil in a large heavy pan (I use a LeCreuset “buffet” pan). Over medium heat, brown the ground lamb- 6 minutes or so. Add the onions and garlic and cook for 2 minutes.
add the spices and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the wine, tomatoes and tomato paste, turn the heat down and let it simmer for about an hour.

Meanwhile: Rinse the eggplant slices off, and lay them on a foil lined baking sheet. Brush them with olive oil and broil them for about 5 minutes- until they start to brown.

Assemble:
Spray a large casserole or baking dish with cooking spray. Make a single layer with half of the eggplant, spoon the meat sauce on top of the eggplant and spread evenly. Top it with the rest of the eggplant.
Slowly pour the bechamel sauce over all, making sure that all of the eggplant has sauce on it.
Cook at 375 for about an hour. Allow to stand for half an hour. Makes about 8 servings.

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