Moussaka

You can tell from the picture, this ain’t your yiayia’s moussaka. Hell, it ain’t my yiayia’s moussaka either, especially given that my heritage demands me to have a bubbe, and not a yiayia.  And bubbe didn’t make no moussaka.

To be frank, it ain’t even my moussaka. Well, it is, but I’ve never make it this pretty before.  Usually mine looks like you’d expect a moussaka to look, like a nice Greek lasagna.  Sorry all my Greek friends out there, I’m sure you’d rather me say “a lasagna looks like a moussaka”.  Political correctness aside you know the deal: square pan, bubbly stuff on top, and served in a nice rectangular hunk.  Its been close to a year since I last posted something that didn’t feel like a cop out (limoncello is the bomb, but its not exactly cooking), so I thought I’d make the normally ugly duckling moussaka a bit more photogenic.  The pretty version was inhaled in the same fashion and if you serve it this way maybe you can charge $18.99 a serving instead of 7 bucks.

Besides the looks there are a few other liberties I took with the recipe, but first some background:  I’m sorry to say all this bacon fat, schmaltz, and other assorted goodies has taken its toll on me, and it’s now time to begin the dreaded ritual…diet time. I am a classic yo-yo dieter, where I lose 50 pounds and generally keep it off for 5 or 6 years and then it’s time to start over again.

“This time it’s different.”

Bullshit!  You know it, I know it, and as much as I always promise to keep it off; wine, beer, wings and pizza always sneak back into my life.  Moderation is key, but moderation is a moving average for me.

What does all this have to do with moussaka? I’ll get to it, just hold your horses chief. Several months ago a friend convinced me to try the “paleo” diet. A fad likely, but it sounded really interesting and fairly easy: don’t eat anything processed, keep away from sugars, grains, legumes, dairy and heavy starches like potatoes. That’s pretty much it. Basically it’s low-ish carb, but it allows most fruits and vegetables so it’s not too wacky. The other good thing the Paleo diet has done is allow me to not be a total religious freak about it when I go off on occasion. I still want my pizza don’tcha know. I also really really like the idea of cutting out things in a bottle I can’t pronounce.

Here is why Paleo has been working for me: bread is evil. When I cut out the bread based products my hunger goes way down and I eat more like a normal human instead of a scavenger. I love bread, pretzels, etc. Give me a nice crusty hunk of bread with a candle for my birthday, and I’m a happy camper.  Who needs that cake stuff?

Ok, now that I went into TMI, here is the tie in…my “moussaka” is paleo friendly. It’s not perfect, as I use a smidge of yogurt, but if you want to be strict you can leave it out and it will still be good.

Can I really call this thing a moussaka with no bechemel or potatoes?  It’s my blog and my rules so deal with it: moussaka it is…or shall we say, Jewsaka! Besides, bechamel is a pain in the ass to make.

 

Oh and by the way, you’re probably wondering why it took close to a year from my last “real post”? Yeah, me too.

 


Ingredients

Makes 4 servings, maybe 6 if you stretch it out. Nah, 4.
  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 5 teaspoons of Penzey’s “Tuscan Seasoning” (or you can use 2 tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp dried basil, 1 tsp dried thyme, 1 tsp dried marjoram).  This thing is spiced to the max!
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon (Nicole loves cinnamon, so I go a little over the top.  You can adjust based on your liking)
  • 1.5 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (use the fresh stuff please, it’s worth it)
  • 1 tbl salt (or to taste, I never know how much I really use. Keep tasting your food hoss.)
  • 2 cloves garlic (you are welcome to use more)
  • Few shakes ground red pepper (shake it like you mean it though)
  • 1 large turnip, peeled (my potatoes in disguise).
  • 1 onion, diced finely
  • 1 lb of fresh tomatoes, also diced finely
  • 1 tbl tomato paste (the only thing from a “bottle”)
  • Olive oil for sauteing
  • A few springs of fresh oregano
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt. Hmm, here’s a conundrum, is it “yogurt” or “yoghurt”? I hate the spelling with the “h”, it just seems too pretentious for lil ole me.
  • Some lemon zest, for a little optional zing

 

Directions

  • Peel your eggplants.  I like eggplant skin as much as the next guy, but it’s such a pain in the ass to break apart with your fork.  So I fix that puppy up real good by peeling stripes into it.  See the pic above if you ain’t followin my lovely prose.  You know what they say about a thousand words and all that jazz.
  • Slice the eggplants into discs.  I like ’em thin, but when you decide to make it, it’s your rules (and you do make these recipes you read online don’t you?  Don’t you?)
  • Salt the eggplant discs on both sides and line a colander with the slices.  Keep layering and then put it into the sink with a heavy bowl on top to squeeze out any water.  I use a steel mixing bowl that I fill with cans of tomatoes.  Those canned goods are good for something.  Don’t forget the “put it into the sink” part, unless you want eggplant juice all over your counters.
  • Peel all the garbage off the turnip and also slice into discs.  People don’t respect the turnip enough, Nicole really loves them and introduced me to them.  Who would have bought that ugly waxed thing at the store anyway?
  • Get a pot simmering with some salted water and put the turnips in.  Cook these until softened.
  • In the meantime, while your eggplant is pissing out its bitter juices, and your turnips are getting their little spa treatment, you can start on the filling.
  • Take yet another pot out and start to saute the onions.
  • When the onions have softened a bit, brown up the ground lamb
  • Now that you’ve got a little fond going, throw in the tomatoes, tomato paste and all the spices (including some of the fresh oregano)
  • Let this simmer for 30-40 minutes or so.  If the filling looks like it’s drying out, add a little water.  If you have some chicken broth that would probably be even better but I haven’t tried it.
  • Coat a baking dish with olive oil, and layer the turnips, meat, eggplant, meat, etc.  If you are like me, you run out of meat too early, so use your judgement.  It’s not a travesty to skip a meat layer, just make sure you end with a meat layer on top.  Otherwise the eggplant looks a little pallid.
  • Cover with foil and bake for an hour or so.  If it doesn’t look close to being done, let it go longer.  Depending on how deep you made it and how thick you made your eggplant will dictate the length of time it needs.
  • Take off the foil and bake for another 20-30 minutes to brown up the top.
  • I mix up some greek yogurt with water to make it a bit runny (see the picture?) and mix in some freshly grated nutmeg.
  • Serve a block of your Jewsaka with some yogurt mix drizzled over the top
  • Sprinkle some more nutmeg and lemon zest on top to make your skillz look more impressive.
  • Mmmmm.
If you want to go all gourmet on this, then the only change is to fry the eggplant in a little olive oil and stack ’em up all nice-nice with the meat and turnips.  Not a bad way to go either and if you are lucky enough to clink glasses with the Jew and crew then you’ll probably get the fancy treatment.