Employee Pick – A Trip to Greece, No Passport Necessary

MoussakaPosted by Diana

Given that I am willing to try anything when it comes to food, (well almost anything – no bugs please and thank you) I decided to get away from my usual bacon filled dishes and try to make something I have yet to master. One Saturday night I decided that it was time to visit Greece via my friend’s kitchen. What to make, what to make? Stuffed grapes leaves? Nah, where would I get the leaves? Lamb rack? Nah, too much carving for my taste. Ouzo? Getting closer but I can just buy that later. Moussaka you say? Yes, right up my alley! I love comfort food and this is Greek comfort food at its finest ladies and gentlemen. I dare you to go into any Greek restaurant and not find it on the menu. If that should ever happen – leave a.s.a.p. as they are not worthy! It’s like lasagna but not really. Close your eyes, well after you looked at the picture, and imagine the taste and smell of this layered, bubbly baked casserole of lamb, beef, eggplant, fresh herbs, a hint of nutmeg and my fave – béchamel sauce (drool). Open your eyes, run to your “Greek for the night” kitchen and start cooking!

Here’s what you’ll need:

2 cloves of Gaaaahlic
2 Sprigs of FRESH Oregano
A handful of parsley
1 Good sized eggplant
1 Sweet bell pepper (you chose the color you fancy)
1 Large onion (Vidalia goes nicely)
1lb of Ground Beef and Lamb mix (If you’re nice to your butcher, he’ll hook you up)
1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes (Fire roasted adds a nice kick)
2 FRESH Bay leaves
A smidge of cinnamon
2 tablespoons of butter (unsalted)
2 tablespoons of flour (AP works best)
1 cup of milk (Any but skim)
¼ cup of parmesan cheese (not traditional but adds just what you need)
An even smaller smidge of ground nutmeg (A must for any white sauce)
1 Lemon

Time to pull your sleeves up:

  1. Preheat the oven to 475F. First things first – wash and dry all your produce. Peel and finely chop the garlic. Pick off the oregano leaves and chop those up finely – you don’t need the stems. Do the same for the parsley. Slice the eggplant lengthwise into about ¼ inch planks. I find it easier to slice off a little bit on the bottom so the eggplant can stand upright as you’re slicing it.  Dice the bell pepper – do the size you like. I like mine chunky so I stick to about a medium dice. Now for the not so fun part – it’s onion time! If you have a food processor and don’t want to cry – use it. A small dice is fine with this.
  2. Arrange the eggplant planks on a baking sheet – oil it a little bit first so they don’t stick. Season them with s&p and drizzle some olive oil. They should be golden brown when you take them out, so 15 – 20 minutes – keep an eye on them.
  3. While the eggplant is getting a tan, heat some olive oil in a medium pot over high heat. When the oil is ready, add the onion, garlic, and bell pepper. Season, season, season! You can lower the heat and let the veggies get soft – 5-7 minutes is fine. Add the meat mix and break it up but don’t beat it up. Time to season again – every layer you add, you need to season for max flavor. Cook until the meat is browned – 5-7 minutes works for me. Add in the oregano, tomatoes, cinnamon and the bay leaves. Once everything comes to a boil, lower your temp to medium and let gently simmer for 5-7 minutes (I seem to like those numbers). You want to get the mixture to thicken and then you can transfer to a bowl – don’t forget to remove the bay leaves.
  4. I am not a fan of washing the dishes so I use the same pot for the sauce. Just wipe it and add the butter while the heat is on medium-high. Sprinkle in the flour and cook for about 30 seconds – you want to get rid of the raw flour taste. Little by little, whisk in the milk and season. Bring it to a steady simmer and cook for 1-2 minutes (5-7 would be too much here) until the sauce has thickened. It will happen quickly so don’t walk away and end up with burned milk – not a good time. Once thickened, you can go ahead and add the cheese and the nutmeg and remove from heat.
  5. Time to put it all together. Spoon a layer of the meat filling on the bottom of a medium size baking dish. Place a few slices of the eggplant on top, then more filling and more eggplant – basically until you run out. Gently drizzle the sauce on top so it gets into every crevasse. Place in the oven and heat until the sauce browns – you guessed it -5-7 minutes.

Opa! You’re done! Serve with a Greek salad and some bread for mopping up the sauce.

Makes about 3 servings

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