So, I must admit that cooking Greek food in the US (especially where there isn’t a Greek community or available authentic Greek products) is much more complicated and interesting than I expected. I am not sure how many of you have been facing similar issues when trying to recreate any of my (or other) Greek recipes. I have found that there are some quite huge differences in a few Greek products here compared to there, especially the yogurt and feta quality and consistency. But there are also big differences in the vegetables, specifically cucumbers – American cucumbers are freaking huge; I recommend using the British or mini cucumbers for your tzatziki or Greek salads. The tomatoes, eggplants, and even zucchinis are extraordinarily large too (Texas sized, maybe?)and not as flavorful as the garden grown variety.
On the other hand though, I have thoroughly enjoyed the oversized kitchen with granite countertops, a kitchen island, convection oven, dishwasher, and outdoor grill! I guess the grass is always greener on the other side!!!
A couple of weeks ago I made one of the most popular Greek dishes, called moussaka. This is a rich eggplant based, lasagna-like dish that is also sometimes made with potatoes (mine is at least, but you could easily substitute for a double portion of eggplants)! My family loved it and I will most definitely be making it again and again. My husband says it is the “king” of Greek foods, maybe that is because it takes like 3-4 hours to prepare or maybe because you feel like a king when you are eating this divine dish.
Moussaka Recipe: Serves 6-82 medium or 1 extra large eggplantsea salt3-4 medium potatoessalt and pepper1 lb. lean ground beef (or lamb)1 large white onion, chopped2-3 cloves garlic, pressed2-3 T. EVOO + extra1 cinnamon stick (or 1/2 tsp. cinnamon)1-2 bay leavespinch all spice3-4 fresh tomatoes or 1 large can whole peeled tomatoes, processed1/4 cup red wine1/4 -1/2 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
Bechamel Sauce Recipe:1/2 cup all-purpose flour1/2 stick of unsalted butter4-5 cups hot whole milk (substitute 2% milk if preferred)Sea salt to tasteFreshly ground black pepper to taste½ tsp nutmeg3 egg yolks, beaten1 1/2 – 2 cups hard cheese (kefalotyri, parmesan, or romano)
Eggplant and potato preparation: Wash eggplants and trim the steams. Leave or peel off the skin and cut lengthwise or round thinly sliced pieces. Place in a large strainer and sprinkle liberally with sea salt. Set aside for 30 minutes to let sweat out the bitter juices of the eggplant. Rinse with chilled water and pat dry with paper towels. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and either grill, broil, or fry until soft and tender. Grill for just a few minutes on each side or broil for 10-15 minutes on a baking tray or fry lightly, until the eggplant is lightly browned and soft. Set aside to cool.
Clean the potatoes really well, removing the skins if desired. Thinly slice with a sharp knife into 1/4″ rounds. Let soak in a large bowl of cold water for 15 minutes and then pat dry. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper. Grill for just a few minutes on each side or broil for 10-15 minutes on a baking tray or fry lightly, cooking until centers are soft. Set aside to cool.
Meat sauce preparation:Heat a lightly oiled skillet on medium-low heat. Sauté the onions for 5 minutes and then add the garlic and cook for another 5-7 minutes, or until transparent and soft. Add the meat and sauté until lightly browned, season lightly with salt and pepper.
Carefully drain of any excess fat and then add tomatoes, and sprinkle half of the breadcrumbs. Mix thoroughly and then add all the spices (cinnamon, all spice, and bay leaf) and wine. Cover lightly and simmer for 30-40 minutes or until all liquids are absorbed. Turn off the heat and set aside uncovered. Before assembling, add 1 ladle of the bechamel sauce to the meat mixture and combine well.Bechamel sauce preparation:To save time, prepare the sauce while the meat is simmering. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Gradually add the sifted flour, ¼ cup at a time whisking quickly until smooth. Repeat until all of the flour is added and there are no clumps. Increase the heat to medium-low and slowly add the milk continuing to whisk constantly. The sauce will slowly begin to thicken, about 10-15 minutes. Once it coats a spoon, remove from heat and slowly add the beaten eggs in a stream and then the spices. Return sauce to the heat and whisk for an additional minute or two until all ingredients are combined. Set aside to cool.
Assembling the moussaka:Preheat the oven to 350/180 degrees. Lightly oil the bottom and sides of your baking dish (square for thicker, rectangle for thinner). Sprinkle the remaining breadcrumbs over the bottom of your pan, align the potato slices on top of the breadcrumbs, overlapping slightly. Spread half the meat mixture (remember to have added 1 ladle of bechamel sauce) on top of the potatoes, and then layer the eggplant slices, also overlapping slightly – making sure to cover the entire dish. Spread the remaining meat mixture over the eggplants and top with the remaining bechamel sauce.
Bake for 30 minutes, and then sprinkle the cheese on top. Return to the oven and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes or until the top becomes golden brown and bubbly. Leave the moussaka in the oven with the oven door cracked open for another 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the moussaka to cool for an additional 15-20 minutes before serving, this ensures that it sets up properly.
Whoohoo.. did you make it through all that? I imagine you only read every detail if you planned on preparing this bad boy! I promise that your endeavor will not be in vain though, you will be thankful with each and every bite you take!
This recipe only appears quite complicated, truth is that it just has many steps involved. I tried to be detailed and it really is worth the effort for an impressive Greek-style dinner. Let me know what you think. Thanks so much for your support and patience during this transitional stage of life.