Meal On A Dime - by Pattie Sue Knapp
Moussaka is an eggplant (sometimes potato-based) dish, sometimes a vegetarian dish it can often be made with lamb or ground meat. It is, in its traditional form, found in the cuisines in the Eastern Mediterranean, Middle East, and Balkans. Many local and regional variations can be expected. I have read where the root word for the dish, musakhan, literally means, “something that is heated.” Today the dish is most closely associated with Greek cuisine mainly due to a famous early 20th Century Greek chef, Nikolaos Tselementes. Perhaps overly fond of French cooking styles, he adapted the local moussaka by adding the French Béchamel sauce. Variations of his adaptation are what we most frequently see today.
As a mother raising three children I often ran into the age old problem; how to provide a good meal and use whatever I had on hand. While it’s fun to peruse cookbooks all too often you find yourself short of the required ingredients. Big name chefs and sponsored programs call for the finest and costliest ingredients. While it is true that to make an exact copy of a particular dish you have to follow the recipe, it is also true that you can consider a recipe simply as a starting point to be amended as needed considering the cost of the ingredients and what foods you have on hand or growing in the garden. That concept is what I call my “meals on a dime.”
To that end, I offer two recipes for moussaka; the first a generic recipe that follows so many in cookbooks and on the internet. The second is my latest endeavor using home grown vegetables and with most of the other items from my pantry shelves. Sometimes it is fun to experiment. Feel free to use whatever you have on hand, cheddar cheese or even pepper jack; you can substitute sausage for the beef or a combination. Why not use leftover spaghetti sauce in place of the white sauce? After all, it’s your dish and you are the cook and no one should tell you otherwise. The ingredients for both versions are listed for comparison but the preparation instructions are the same.
The full recipe can be seen in the Janis Gardens Cookbook
Ingredients: Generic Recipe
- 3 eggplants (peeled, cut into ½-inch lengthwise slices, 3 medium or 2 large)
- Salt (for seasoning and for eggplants) and cracked pepper
- 1 tablespoon butter
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 pound ground beef
- 2 onions, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ¼ teaspoon each nutmeg, cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons parsley (fresh or dried)
- 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
- 1 egg beaten
- 1/3 cup red wine - optional
- 4 cups milk
- ½ cup butter
- 6 tablespoons flour
- Salt to taste (for white sauce)
- 1 ½ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg for topping
- ½ teaspoon herbs (I generally use basil, mint and tarragon)
- Salt the eggplant and put on towels to absorb the liquid for about ½ hour, then pat dry and add olive oil to skillet and bring up to heat. Fry eggplant quickly until lightly browned on both sides, remove from heat and put on towels to catch any residual grease.
Wipe out the skillet and add the butter, when melted add the ground beef and onions and garlic. Stir to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir mixture until meat is cooked through, then add the cinnamon, nutmeg, herb mixture and parsley, stir to combine. Add the tomato sauce and wine*, stir and simmer for about ½ hour. Remove from the heat and when cooled add the beaten egg*, stir to combine.
Bring milk up to a hard simmer (do not boil) while melting butter in a skillet. When melted add the flour mixing with a whisk to combine; then slowly add the milk while whisking to avoid lumps. Continue whisking until mixture thickens to desired consistency. You can add salt to taste if desired.
Spray a 9- x 13-inch (or use 7- x 11-inch) pan with nonstick cooking spray and place a layer of eggplant on the bottom, layer the meat on top then add 1 third of the cheese* over the meat and layer with remaining eggplant. Cover with another 1 third of the cheese and top with the white sauce. Spread sauce evenly over the eggplant and cover with remaining cheese and top with nutmeg.
Bake in a preheated 350° F oven for approximately 1 hour or until nicely browned on top. Remove and let sit for about 10 minutes before cutting.