Friday, March 06, 2009



Sincere apologies for the stretch of time between posts. It is not that I have neither cooked nor thought of this food blog recently; it is just that my angelheart Eric and I have been setting up our new home in central Auckland, and we've been planning the details of our civil union partnership reception.

Moussaka (various spellings) is a dish associated with southern Europe, for it is of Balkan and Middle Eastern provenance, often said to be an Ottoman dish. It has been transported throughout the world and, consequently, has been subject to variations. The most typical version is the Greek moussakas, a three-layer offering of aubergine, lamb and tomatoes, topped with bechamel. In Arab cookery, moussaka does not have bechamel topping, and while layered, it is treated more as a cooked salad, which is to say it is very kind to whatever vegetables you have on hand.

This, here, is a simple vegetarian offering, which is to say we dispensed of the normal inclusion of lamb. One should not do away with the aubergines and tomotoes, which are the quintessential elements of moussaka. If you have potatoes, courgettes, and carrots, slice them thinly, saute or gently roast them, and layer them into the dish.

Traditionally, eggs are used as a binding ingredient for lamb and onions; we merely kept them in for oomph. Essential are herbs and spices. Use whatever suitable green herbs you have on the day (we used flat-leaf parley and lemon thyme, but feel free to use mint, tarragon and rosemary). As for spices, allspice and good black pepper work particularly well. But if allspice is not to hand, go for toasted cumin,

(Closely following a variation of Elizabeth David's recipe for Musaka in
Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen)

500g aubergine (2-4 aubergines, depending on size)
1 onion, thinly sliced
750g tomatoes, chopped (you can skin them, if you please)
1 clove of garlic, crushed
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon parsley
1/2 teaspoon hondashi
1 teaspoon allspice, freshly ground
2 eggs, beaten
4-5 tablespoons vegetable stock or water, divided use
breadcrumbs (homemade: toast slices of good day-old bread, then grind them)

1) Preheat oven to 180 C/350 F (grill setting).
2) Thinly slice aubergines lengthwise, brush both sides with olive oil and grill in the oven (or on a barbecue grill) until soft but not mushy. Remove from grill.
3) In a saute pan, gently fry slices of onion in a bit of olive oil until pale yellow.
4) Add seasonings and herbs. Off the heat, stir in eggs.
5) In a separate pan, cook tomatoes and garlic in olive oil until most of the liquid has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper and hondashi.
6) Pre-heat oven to 170 C/330 F.
7) Lightly oil an oven-safe baking dish, and layer in the ingredients: aubergines, then tomatoes, until all have been used.
8) Top with a layer of breadcrumbs.
9) Lightly soften with 3 tablespoons of vegetable stock. Cover with alumiunium foil, then bake for thirty minutes.
10) Remove foil. If the moussaka seems dry, add a little more stock. Bake for a further thirty minutes.

The specimen on the left is ultimately quite shallow, perfect as a side dish, but the number of layers you end up with depends entirely upon the amount of vegetables and size of baking dish you use.

This is a hearty, flavoursome and savoury dish that is best served hot but it perfectly tasty at room temperature, making it an ideal offering for any course during the day. If you have a small household, there will be leftovers for the following day, and like many dishes with herbs and spices, the dish improves overnight.

Moussaka is a perfectly simple dish to prepare, making good use of the bounty of summer and early autumn.

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