Greek lasagna Moussaka

(Oct. 8, 2021) The year 2019 will be embedded in our minds forever. Who would ever have thought that a virus called Covid-19 would end up devastating the entire world?

What makes matters worse is the speculation of how this dreadful virus started. The ripple effects have been shocking and the economic and social disruption will be felt for years.

Cancelations and closures were an everyday occurrence. Restaurants, health clubs and churches were just a sampling. The famous Ocean City Greek Festival was another casualty in this crushing pandemic.

If one has never attended the Ocean City’s Greek Festival you have no idea what you are missing. Authentic Greek food, festive music, folk dancers, vendors and adult beverages have made this celebratory a truly memorable event.

I know first-hand how much time and money can be invested in making traditional dishes. It is a pity that modern technology, fast food and frozen meals have become a convenient and accepted alternative for homemade meals. One’s heritage must be instilled in our youth if culture is to flourish.

Moussaka is one of my favorite Greek dishes. This Greek lasagna is layered with baking potatoes, luscious eggplant, a decadent meat sauce, and is crowned with a light, fluffy bechamel topping. If this sounds yummy, following are a few tips for clarification and knowledge.

Let us work from the bottom of the dish up. Potatoes are the foundation of the dish. All potatoes and vegetables should be sliced lengthwise and no more than one-third of an inch in thickness.

The next step is to place a layer of eggplant onto the potatoes. Purple eggplant can be bitter. As a result, salt them generously and allow them to rest for 45 minutes. The eggplant will start to sweat, and this is an indication that this process is working. Then rinse the eggplant thoroughly in cold water.

If eggplant is not one’s favorite vegetable, consider layering zucchini or yellow squash. Remember, the base of the dish must be able to hold up to the rich meat sauce and decadent topping.

Ground lamb pairs wonderfully with cinnamon and nutmeg; however, ground lamb is quite expensive. Ground beef by itself, or ground beef with the addition of ground veal and ground sausage are other options.

The one thing that all moussakas have in common is the tomato sauce. Red wine and beef stock are generally the accepted additives. However, a touch of chicken stock gives the dish more depth of flavor.

The bechamel sauce is the piece de resistance. Cheese is a key ingredient and again the choices are based on personal preference. Parmesan, preferably Parmigiana Reggiano, or Pecorino Romano will add fabulous flavor without overpowering the rest of the moussaka.

Football season is here and celebrations are in full swing. Moussaka served in a casserole dish along with a Greek salad are not only mouthwatering but allow guests to help themselves which makes a host very happy. Enjoy!

Meat Layer

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 pounds ground lamb or beef (veal or pork can be added)

6 cloves garlic, minced

2 ½ large yellow onions, finely chopped

8 baby portobello mushrooms, finely chopped

2 ½ cups tomato sauce

1 ½ cups beef stock

1 ½ cups chicken stock

2 cups dry red wine

½ cup finely chopped parsley

5 heaped tablespoons tomato paste

4 bay leaves

2 ½ to 3 teaspoons sugar

2 ½ to 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat. Sauté meat until thoroughly cooked. Strain meat for any fat and set aside. Make sure all the clumps of the meat are broken down.

2. Add remaining olive oil, turn heat to medium-low, and sauté garlic, onions and mushrooms util translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes.

3. Add the remaining ingredients for the meat layer and simmer until all of the liquid has reduced and you are left with only a thick meat sauce. Remove pot from burner and set aside.

Vegetable Layer

2 purple eggplants

4 medium russet potatoes

extra-virgin olive oil for frying

1. In a large sauté pan, heat oil to medium-high. Make sure the oil covers the veggies and potatoes. Cook until the potatoes and veggies are tender, then place them on a cooling rack. Pat dry with paper towels to remove any excess oil.

Bechamel Sauce

2 sticks unsalted butter

8 ounces flour

8 cups whole milk

2 cups grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano

4 eggs yolks

1 teaspoon table salt

3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, plus extra for garnishing

3/4 teaspoon white pepper

1. In a suitable sized pot, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour to create a roux, then gradually whisk in your milk. As the sauce thickens, pay special to breaking down any lumps. The sauce should be velvety smooth. Stir in salt, white pepper, and nutmeg.

2. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in cheese, and then whisk in egg yolks. At this point, some chefs prefer to mix ½ cup of the bechamel into the meat mixture. This step is optional.

Stack Moussaka

Add a layer of potato to the baking dish, make sure entire surface is covered. You may have to overlap the potatoes. Add a layer of eggplant; again, make sure the entire surface is covered.

Add a layer of meat, then another layer of eggplant and a final layer of meat. Top with bechamel sauce. Add a dusting of nutmeg.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Allow dish to rest for 15 minutes before cutting into it. This last step will help the moussaka hold its shape.

* You can either make moussaka in a 9-inch x 16-inch casserole dish for large gatherings or prepare 2 (8-inch x 8-inch) dishes and freeze one for future use.

Secret Ingredient – Culture. “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

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