Friday, March 06, 2009

 

Moussaka

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,

Moussaka
(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
salt
pepper
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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Comments:
Do you know, it was just earlier this week I was saying to myself that I have not seen Shaun post in ages and now here you are!

Hope the plans for the reception are going well. Exciting times setting up your home etc. Hearty congrats to you and the angelheart.
 
This sounds really good, I love that it's not loaded down with sauce and full of fat. Congrats on setting up new house and hope the reception goes well!
 
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I haven't had moussaka in so long. And to think, I just put out my eggplant seedlings today. Now I can dream of moussaka as I watch them grow.

This looks delicious.
 
Sorry I haven't been about for ages.

Congratulations to both of you on getting planning to get married! Really happy news :)
 
Cynthia ~ I have become terribly erratic with posting, but I am still cooking up a storm. And I still check out friends' blogs for inspiration. Married life suits us well. It is nice to finally be together. Thank you for the support, dear friend.

Sara, love ~ This is our basic recipe for moussaka, but I really prefer it when we add sliced beet to it, too, for it gives so much depth and interest. And it turns the dish a pretty purple, as you can imagine.

The wedding and reception went very smoothly. It was a wonderful day. And we are very happy here at the end of the world.

Camelia ~ Thank you~

Christina ~ I don't mind gently frying the veggies first. It actually improves the dish, and though this is a simple dish, it is ruined when treated poorly. I've got my fingers crossed for your eggplants. Grow well, little buddies!! :-)

Kelly-Jane ~ Don't worry. I feel like I haven't really stopped by a lot lately, either. Nice to see you pop up in the Comments when you do have time. We had a lovely ceremony and reception. It was just what we wanted, and it was pretty stress-free. Everyone had a good time. We're very happy. How are you doing?
 
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