Saturday, September 1, 2012

When Life Hands You Eggplants...Make Moussaka

This evening I decided to make Moussaka for dinner.  You know the old saying "when life hands you lemons, make lemonade"?  Well I used that same principle, (slightly modified)..."when life (or a generous coworker) hands you eggplants, make Moussaka"!  Even though I have made eggplant dishes several times recently, this week a generous coworker brought me some beautiful fresh eggplants from his garden.  I just couldn't pass up an opportunity to make Moussaka!  Truth be known, I could eat eggplant every day and be happy!   Typical Moussaka recipes are covered with a bechamel/cheese sauce that uses both flour and butter as thickeners.  Since I am not eating wheat, I decided to come up with a way to make it without using any.  I remember thinking earlier in the week when I made my Eggplant Ricotta Bake...that the topping on that reminded me very much of the topping on Moussaka and thought it might work for that as well (with a few tweaks) and that I would try it some day.  I just didn't realize that "some day" would come so soon.  Since these eggplants were so fresh and smaller than the ones I usually find in the store, they were extremely tender and literally melted in your mouth -- hubby thought they were the best ever!  Below you will find a couple pics of the Moussaka (which turned out fabulous) as well as the recipe I used.  Enjoy!


Moussaka (w/ Grain-Free Bechamel)


2 medium eggplants, sliced lengthwise 1/4" thick (peeled, if desired)
Olive oil (as needed)
1 lb lean ground beef (or lamb)
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 – 1 teaspoon cinnamon, optional
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, or to taste

For the “Bechamel” Cheese Sauce
1 lb. ricotta
3 eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (plus extra for sprinkling on top)
Nutmeg, dash/pinch


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 11 x 7” baking pan or similar sized casserole dish. Brush a foil lined cookie sheet with olive oil.

Brush each side of sliced eggplant with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Place the eggplant slices in a single layer on cookie sheet; broil until lightly brown; turn and broil the other side, brushing with additional oil, if needed. Broil until completely fork tender (alternatively you could grill the eggplant slices).  In the bottom of the prepared baking dish, arrange half of the eggplant slices and set aside.

In a large skillet, brown beef; add onions and cook stirring until the beef is no longer pink and the onions are soft and translucent; add garlic and cook a few minutes more.  Add tomato sauce, oregano, cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste) and black pepper (to taste); simmer uncovered about 10 minutes (you don’t want much liquid left).  Pour meat mixture over eggplant slices.  Arrange the remaining eggplant slices over the beef mixture.

For the Bechamel/Cheese Sauce, in a medium bowl, whisk ricotta, eggs, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and dash of nutmeg together until smooth and well blended; add salt and pepper to taste, if desired (the Parmesan cheese is salty, so be careful not to over salt).  Pour the cheese sauce over the top and spread evenly.  Sprinkle additional Parmesan cheese on top, if desired.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.  If desired, run casserole under the broiler for a few minutes to lightly brown.  Let sit about 15-20 minutes or so to set before cutting into squares.  Serves approximately 4 to 5. 

*Note: Even though you may not think 8 ounces of tomato sauce is enough, the tomato sauce is simply being used to flavor the meat and keep it moist; it isn't supposed to be like lasagna's meat sauce. If you don't like the idea of adding cinnamon to the meat mixture, you can omit it; however it is the unique flavor that I think "makes the dish".  Also, it is imperative to cook your eggplant slices until completely tender; this is not a vegetable that is pleasant undercooked (unless you like chewing on erasers).


Kare said...

Oooh, made this tonight and I'm so happy to say it looks almost just like yours! I'm too full at the moment, and delicious!
Thank you!

Gourmet Girl Cooks said...

Thanks Kare -- so glad you liked it! It is rich and filling -- you find you really don't have to eat as big of a piece and you will still be satisfied. Again...glad you liked it!

Janzo said...

THIS. IS. DELICIOUS!! Do be brave and use the cinnamon, it is truly essential for moussaka! In the spirit of using what I have on hand, I used spaghetti sauce for the tomato paste and herbs; cottage cheese for the ricotta; and tossed in wilted fresh spinach below the meat sauce .. because .. well, it was in the fridge! Thank you for all your wonderful recipes!

Gourmet Girl Cooks said...

Thanks Janzo! So glad you liked it. I love the cinnamon in it and think most would like it if they tried it in this recipe! Thanks again! :-)