Mighty Meaty

Moussaka (baked eggplants and beef with bechamel sauce)

Sometimes known as mousakas, musaka or musakka, this dish of eggplants and meat is found in Turkey, Hungary, the Balkans and across the Eastern Mediterranean. The baked version with the white sauce topping appears to be Greek in origin.

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Personally, I would describe it as something like lasagna except that instead of layers of pasta, we have layers of thinly sliced eggplants sautéed in olive oil. It’s delicious, really, especially when served with bread to mop up the tomato sauce and the white cheesy topping.

Ingredients

  • about 6 eggplants
    olive oil
    400 g. of beef, minced or ground
    2 onions, chopped
    6 cloves of garlic, minced
    2 c. of finely chopped tomatoes
    a splash of red wine
    a handful of sweet basil leaves, roughly chopped
    the leaves from three sprigs of oregano (or the equivalent of half as much if using dried)
    salt
    pepper
    a little sugar

    For the Mornay sauce (it’s bechamel sauce with cheese):

    1/4 c. of butter
    1/4 c. of flour
    1-1/2 to 2 c. of milk
    3/4 c. (or more) of grated Parmesan cheese (or other salty cheese — a combo if cream cheese and sharp cheddar works really well too)
    salt

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Instructions

  1. Make the meat sauce.

    Heat about 4 tablespoonfuls of olive oil in a pan. Add the beef and stir around until the meat starts to brown a little. Throw in the chopped onion and minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about two minutes.

    Pour in the red wine. Boil, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced to almost nothing.

    Add the tomatoes, basil and oregano. Season with salt, pepper and a little sugar to balance the acidity of the tomatoes. Cook over medium heat, uncovered, and with occasional stirring, until the tomatoes are soft and the mixture is almost dry. Trust me, you do not want a soupy sauce. When the sauce is done, set it aside.

    Fry the eggplants.

    To prevent the eggplants from discoloring, do not slice them all at the same time. Instead, slice them just before each batch goes into the hot oil.

    Heat about 1/4 c. of olive oil in a frying pan. Cut off the tops of about two eggplants then cut the eggplants vertically into 1/4 inch thick slices. Depending on the size of your eggplants, you’ll get three to four slices with every eggplant.

    Fry the eggplant slices in hot olive oil over medium heat. Just brown them a bit; do not overcook or allow to turn soggy. Transfer to a plate, keep warm, fry the next batch, and so on. Eggplants will soak the oil like anything so you will have to add more after frying each batch.

    Preheat the oven to 375F while you make the Mornay sauce.

    Melt the butter in a pan. Add the flour, all at once, stirring to get rid of any lumps. Cook the mixture for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in the milk little by little, stirring as you do. Use as much, or as little, milk as you like — more milk means a thinner sauce; less means a chunkier sauce. Just remember that a very chunky sauce will not be pourable and it might not be easy to level it off when spread over the beef and eggplants.

    Add the cheese (or cheeses). Stir until melted. Season with salt, if needed.

    Assemble your moussaka.

    Take a baking dish. Line the bottom with fried eggplant slices. Then, cover the eggplant slices with the meat sauce. Top the meat sauce with another layer of eggplant slices. Pour in the Mornay sauce, spreading so that all edges are sealed.

    Baked in a preheated 375F oven for 10 to 12 minutes or just until the top of the bechamel sauce is browned in places.

    Allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving to allow the moussaka to firm up so you can have nice slices. If you don’t care about appearance, well, serve the moussaka even while still very hot. I did. We were hungry.

Cooking time (duration): 50 minutes

Number of servings (yield): 4 to 5

Meal type: lunch / supper

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