I love cooking, but my creations tended to be more on the simple side of things, if one did not count making baked goods from scratch, because I would be lying if I said those aren’t time consuming. I blame this on the fact that I began to cook in college. Even so, I’ve always harbored a wish to tackle and conquer more complicated dishes.
The other day, I came across a recipe for moussaka – Greek moussaka, to be exact. In theory, it seemed to be fairly simple: layers of roasted eggplant interspersed with a tomato “meat” sauce topped with béchamel sauce and shredded Parmesan. On the other hand, the steps involved meant that there were more chances to make mistakes. Still, I endeavoured to at least try, even though it would mark the first of many things…
Though I have cooked with eggplant before, I have never roasted them. In addition, eggplant is one of those things where it’s either a hit or miss; either it comes out well, or there’s something off about it (perhaps the slight bitterness from the seeds?). Then there are those moments it just comes out, and you don’t really know if it’s good or bad. I’ve also never made a sauce with a French name before and to be quite honest, I’ve never made something that required a roux base, either. Well, good thing I enjoy challenges – plus, I had the entire kitchen to myself for the 4-5 hour undertaking.
Once I completed it, I realised something: the only thing daunting about this dish is the fact that it is time consuming. The preparation of the eggplant, the roasting of the eggplant, the making of the “meat” sauce and the béchamel, not to mention the assembling, and finally, the baking of the moussaka as a whole. I’m happy to say that, yes, it is worth it, because it came out rather well and pleasing to my taste buds… if not all that visually pleasing due to the sputtering of the sauce underneath.
I can’t help but think of “lasagna” when I see it… but it tastes a bit more exotic. 🙂
Vegetarian Greek Moussaka
(serves 6-8; based on this recipe)
3 pounds of Eggplant (2 extra large or 3 medium)
3 tablespoons of Olive Oil/Cooking Spray
2 tablespoons of Olive Oil
1/2 cup of Ground Soy “Meat”
1-1/2 to 2 cups of Mushrooms, chopped small
2 cups of Prepared Tomato Sauce (with various vegetables)
15 ounce can of Diced Tomatoes
2 tablespoons of Tomato Paste
A handful of Chopped Italian Parsley
2 tablespoons of Evaporated Cane Sugar
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon of Ground Cinnamon
1 tablespoon of Salt
Pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons of Butter
4 tablespoons of All-Purpose Flour
2 cups (1 pint) of Whole Milk
1/2 teaspoon of Ground Nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon of Salt
1/8 teaspoon of Ground Pepper
1/4 cup of Shredded Parmesan Cheese
1 Egg, lightly beaten
Cut eggplant into 1/4-inch thick rounds; try to keep them at least that width. Sprinkle with a little salt and let sit in a colander for an hour. The eggplant will begin to release liquid. Rinse well, pat dry, and brush each side with olive oil or a cooking spray. Place on a greased sheet pan and roast in an oven at 400 F until golden, about 20-30 minutes.
Heat the oil with the cinnamon and add the mushrooms and “meat”. Saute until fragrant and browned for five minutes. Be sure to stir often to avoid burning. Add the tomato paste and continue sauteing for one to two minutes before adding the rest of the ingredients. Stir and let simmer on medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes. It should be on the thick and chunky side, as far as sauces are concerned.
Melt the butter in a saucepan and whisk in the flour. Let cook for 2 to 3 minutes on medium heat, stirring often. The “dough” will even out and slightly brown. Whisk in 1 cup of milk and add the second cup once it has dissolved. Stir constantly and bring to a boil, then let simmer on low for an additional 2 minutes and remove from heat. It should be white and smooth. Add nutmeg, 2 to 3 tablespoons of cheese, salt, and pepper, and stir until incorporated and homogeneous. Set aside to cool. In a small bowl, lightly beat an egg, but do not add to the sauce just yet.
Assembling the Moussaka:
Divide the eggplant slices into three stacks, reserving the best looking and large pieces for the top and bottom layers. In a greased 8 x 13 pan, place one layer of eggplant and cover with half of the “meat” sauce. Add another layer of eggplant and the remaining “meat” sauce. Add the third and final layer of eggplant. Whisk in the beaten egg into the béchamel until smooth and spread over the final eggplant layer. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and place in an oven at 350 F for 35 to 60 minutes, until golden. Let stand for ten minutes before serving.
- There were various changes – mainly to the “meat” sauce to make it vegetarian and still hearty without using too much fake meat. Also, we had leftover tomato-spaghetti sauce on hand so I used that as well. Just a note: the sauce included vegetables like celery and carrots so it came in a little chunky to begin with. The salt and pepper measurements are to your own taste.
- The initial preparation of the eggplant is supposed to take out the bitterness, but I could still taste a little – perhaps from the bigger slices of eggplant that had the seeds embedded into them. Even so, it was good and the bitterness wasn’t overwhelming. It’s also highly possible I did it wrong… or partially wrong. Not every bite was infused with the bitter taste of eggplant seed.
- A note that I live in a coastal city. As such, I found that I only needed to bake it for closer to 30 to 40 minutes, rather than the full hour the original recipe stated, in order to obtain that golden color.
- Taste Test: Delicious body and texture along with the sweet-tang from the tomatoes and the extra kick from the cinnamon. The béchamel on top helped round it out. Plus, it smelled great in the oven and out. All in all, a great success to all who tasted it!