Moussaka. A taste of Greece.

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I don’t cook much Greek food. Not because I don’t like it, simply because I have never been to Greece and have therefore never gotten to experience ‘authentic Greek food’ first hand. I like authenticity and therefore I rarely cook food from countries I have never visited. When I moved to India i figured out that Indian food was much more than what was on the menu of local Indian diners in Europe and most of the Indian food I cooked was not really Indian. I like to learn from the source (either from people who know what they are talking about) or by going to that specific country to try to understand the cuisine(s). Nevertheless I spent a few days researching Greek food because it is a kitchen I don’t know a lot about. After a lot of reading I decided I would try to make a traditional Greek dish: Moussaka. Based on research, tons of articles and a few cook books I created my own version. Some recipes from American and European websites included cheddar cheese and other funky ingredients which have never seen the Greek kitchen, so I read as much as I could to come up with a recipe that would include the real flavors of Greece. I once had a Greek room mate and I remember spices like cloves and cinnamon from his cooking, so I decided to incorporate them in my Moussaka. Normally Kefalograviera (Greek cheese) is a part of the Béchamel Sauce, but I couldn’t find it, and most recipes suggested Parmesan as a substitute. I used Pecorino in mine as it is also a salty sheep’s milk cheese like Kefalograviera.

Moussaka

4 eggplants (approx. 1200 g.)

600 g minced beef

1 ½ teaspoon black peppercorns (or 1 tablespoon powder)

5 allspice berries (or 1 teaspoon powder)

2 4 cm/2 inch twill cinnamon (or 1 tablespoon powder)

3 cloves (or ½ teaspoon powder)

2 small bay leaves (or one big)

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons dried marjoram

4 onions (small, red)

4 cloves garlic

80 g. tomato concentrate

1 can tomatoes

2 dl red wine

2 dl. Water/stock

2 teaspoon fresh thyme

2 teaspoon fresh rosemary

2 tablespoon vinegar (neutral or wine)

1 tablespoon sugar

75 g. Butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

7 dl. Milk

150 g. Cheese (Kefalograviera, Pecorino, Parmesan or Grana Padano)

3 eggs

Nutmeg

White pepper

Salt

 

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Meat sauce

Cut the eggplants in one cm thick slices and place in a colander. Sprinkle heavily with salt and leave for half an hour or more. If using whole spices dry roast cinnamon, allspice, peppercorns and cloves on low heat for five to six minutes or until aromatic. Meanwhile fry onions in another pan for five to six minutes in olive oil or until slightly caramelized. Using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder grind the peppercorns, allspice, cinnamon and cloves to a fine powder. Add the ground spices, oregano, marjoram, garlic and bay leaves to the onions and fry for two minutes. Use more olive oil if the spices stick to the pan.

Transfer the onion mix to a bowl and heat the pan again. Add more oil and fry the minced meat in batches. Frying the meat in smaller batches will give more flavors as the meat will actually fry and not cook in its own liquids. Using a cast iron pan is the best as its density makes it easier to maintain high temperature when adding the colder meat. After frying one batch of meat add to the bowl with the onion mix and continue.

Once all the meat has been fried add a little oil to the pan and fry the tomato concentrate for 2-3 minutes. Then add the wine and reduce to one third. Add canned tomatoes, stock/water and the onion/meat mixture. Boil on low flame until almost dry and remove from heat. Add sugar, vinegar, chopped thyme and rosemary and taste with salt. Remove the bay leaves.

Béchamel sauce

In a smaller cooking vessel add butter and heat on low flame. Once the butter has melted add the flour and stir with a whisk for one minute. Gradually add the milk and bring to a simmer while constantly whisking. In a small bowl whisk eggs and add a little of the hot béchamel sauce while whisking. Add the egg mixture back into the pot with béchamel sauce and add the grated cheese. Add nutmeg, white pepper and salt to taste.

Eggplants/Aubergines

Pat dry the eggplants/aubergines and brush with alive oil. On a BBQ or a grill pan fry the eggplant/aubergine slices for 3-4 minutes on each side.

Coat the bottom of a baking dish with olive oil. Add a layer of eggplants/aubergines and top with the meat sauce. Continue layering and make sure that the final layer will be eggplant/aubergines. Add the béchamel sauce on top of the final layer and bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes on 180 degrees Celsius.

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