A seasoned casserole of lamb and eggplant, Moussaka is a national dish—and for good reason.
Eggplant: peel eggplants and cut into thick slices (at least 1/2"). Salt both sides and stand for 1 hour in large colanders. Rinse slices and pat dry. Heat 2 T oil in large skillet and cook slices, 4 or 5 at a time, till tender. Add 1 or 2 T of oil as needed.* Set slices aside on a plate when done.
Assembly: In same skillet cook onion till tender (5-7 minutes); add lamb, stirring constantly to brown. Finally, add remaining ingredients, except mozzarella and tomato slices. Stir to mix, and cook over low heat until liquid is absorbed. Put into a large bowl and set aside. In the same skillet, sauté tomato slices in a little oil. Remove from pan and put aside.
White Sauce: In a medium saucepan, melt butter, stir in flour, and cook 2 minutes. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly, over medium-low heat, until slightly thickened (about 10 minutes). In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with seasonings and stir about 1/4 C of hot milk mixture into eggs. (You don’t want the eggs to cook by adding them all at once to the hot white sauce.) When completely blended, pour egg mixture back into saucepan, continue to cook and stir. Add ricotta cheese, and continue cooking until sauce has consistency of creamy soup. (If it’s too thick, add more milk.)
Assembly: Preheat oven to 350. Grease an 11 x 16 pan and arrange ingredients in layers: a layer of eggplant, layer of mozzarella, layer of meat; again, eggplant, mozzarella, meat. Arrange tomato slices on final meat layer. Pour White Sauce over top of casserole, and bake in oven for 1 hour, till top is golden and insides bubbling. Let casserole rest 20 minutes before cutting and serving.
* To cut down on oil, try brushing eggplant slices lightly with oil. Put them on a foil-lined baking tray and bake, covered with foil, at 350 for 10-15 minutes, till glistening and tender but not mushy.
Tips & Glossary
You may not have a number of ingredients used in Greek cooking in your spice shelf, but you can find them at Mid-Eastern food stores. So to avoid frustration, make a list of the items you need before trying out the recipes.
Filo: aka phyllo, paper-thin sheets of raw, unleavened flour dough. Purchase frozen in most grocery stores and follow directions on package for thawing. When working with a sheet, keep others covered with a damp towel to prevent drying out.
Grape Leaves: Grape leaves are sold canned in salted oil. Rinse off the salt before using. If you want, prepare your own: find fresh, tender young leaves and plunge them for 1 minute into boiling water (with 1 or 2 T lemon juice). Then proceed with recipe. After blanching, you can freeze them for later use. Here’s how: blanch as above, dunk in iced water, pat dry with towels, and seal in an air-tight plastic bag. They're safe for 6 months, but use quickly when thawed.
Nutmeg: Use small whole nuts and store them, tightly covered, in a dry dark area. Grate what you need using the smallest grating edge or grind in a food processor. What a difference from store bought nutmeg!
Pine Nuts: edible seeds of pine trees used in many Greek dishes. Before cooking, release flavor by lightly browning in a heated skillet
Skewers: Use metal or wooden skewers for kebobs. If wooden, soak 30 minutes before using to prevent them from catching on fire.
Rosewater: distilled from rose petals and used to flavor Mid-Eastern and Asian cooking. You can make your own. But, seriously, why would you? Purchase it at Asian or Mid-Eastern stores.
Semolina: aka farina or Cream of Wheat; a coarsely ground wheat grain. You also know it as couscous. If made from durum wheat, it is used to make pasta.
Tarama: poor-man's caviar. From carp roe, it is pinkish-orange and is what (along with food dye) gives taramasalata its lovely color. Buy it jarred in Mid-Eastern food stores.
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