Moussaka, the crown jewel of Greek cuisine, below. But first…
Four walls, or a lean-to? What’s your personal architecture?
Many years ago, author Stephen Birmingham wrote a magazine article about New England prep schools – especially the ones for boys – and concluded that one of the key distinguishing traits of adolescence was that teenage kids were architecturally “unfinished,” with one wall still open to the world. Very much like a lean-to. I’ve never forgotten that metaphor, not just as it applies to adolescents but to all of us, however old we are.
An open wall is risky, with exposure to the hazards of “foul weather” and the slings and arrows of misfortune. But it also allows much that is good, remarkable, surprising and memorable – some of the key components of a deep and rich self-education that you’d otherwise miss.
As a writer all my adult life, I’ve kept my fourth wall more open than closed, exposed to new places, people, relationships, and the insights they provide that I can store for later use – to feed my fiction work or seed an unusual story or just to park away for its intrinsic value. Over the last twenty years or so, my wife has joined me in this modest crusade to keep discovering what’s new and enriching. Example: going into seedy bars and roadhouses looking for a pool game or just some different company. How many times in the movies do we see these bar scenes turn ugly, confrontative, violent? Almost always! Well, I can assure you, after hundreds of such visits all over the country, it’s been quite the opposite for us.
If you finish your fourth wall, close the door and shutter the windows, I believe your growth will grind to a halt. If you let people in, they’ll let you in, and there’s no telling where that may lead. Well, that’s that.
(photo by nata vkusidey|dreamstime.com. So what is it with the parsley? One on the topping, one on the napkin – neither should be there. This is not a dish that is crowned with parsley! Food photographers: lose the parsley!)
This dish is almost unwordably delicious – rich and juicy and deeply satisfying. My father-in-law’s eyes start to tear up just at the mention of it- and he’s a gourmet cook. So, all the work you’re about to do – and there’s no shortage of work for this dish – will be more than worth it.
There are three overall main ingredients – plus plenty of others: ground lamb, eggplant, and a mild cheese sauce. So, to serve 6 you will need:
- 3 lbs. of tender eggplant, sliced thin lengthwise – about 1/4 inch.
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 medium onions, very finely chopped
- 2-3 cloves garlic, pressed
- 1/2 tsp. allspice
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1.5 lbs. ground lamb – lay it out on a cutting board and try to mince it if it’s too coarsely ground.
- 2 large ripe peeled tomatoes, chopped (canned tomatoes are fine)
- 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 Tbsp. chopped flat leaf parsley (okay, it has parsley, but IN the dish, not on it)
- 2 oz. butter
- 1/2 cup flour
- 2 1/2 cups milk
- pinch if nutmeg
- 1/3 cup finely grated parmesan
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
Now do these things:
- lay out the eggplant slices on a baking sheet – you will need 2 sheets, or a sheet and a large cutting board
- sprinkle them with salt and let them sit for 30 minutes. Go have fun for half an hour, then come back. Rinse the eggplant with cold water, then pat dry with paper towels.
- Preheat oven to 350.
- In a large pan heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil, add eggplant slices, and cook for 1-2 minutes per side or until golden. Do this in batches because you have a lot of slices.
- In a large saucepan or dutch oven, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil, add the diced onions, and cook over a medium flame for about 5 mins. Now add garlic, allspice, and cinnamon and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the minced lamb and cook for about 5 minutes or until meat is well browned. Add the tomato, tomato paste, and wine, lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes uncovered, or until the liquid has evaporated. Finally, stir in the chopped parsley, and set the pan aside.
Okay, the cheese sauce:
- melt the butter in a saucepan over low. Stir in the flour and whisk it for about 1 minute until it’s bit foamy. Remove pan from heat and slowly add the milk, plus the nutmeg. Set pan on burner again, medium-low, and stir constantly with the whisk until the sauce starts to thicken and gently boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 2 more minutes. Now add the just 1 Tbsp. parmesan cheese and stir in. Lastly stir in the beaten eggs.
- Use a 10 by 12″ ovenproof dish. Lay in 1/3 of the eggplant slices. Spoon in half of the meat sauce. Lay another 1/3 of the slices over the sauce. Add the rest of the meat sauce, the rest of the eggplant, and pour the cheese sauce over it. Sprinkle with what’s left of the parmesan.
- Bake for 1 hr. (at 350).
- Let stand for 10 minutes before slicing.
- This is a lot like a Greek lasagna, no? Same basic architecture…
You really should have a side salad with Moussaka, if only to keep you safely ensconced in the illusion that you’re having a balanced meal.
Key point about this recipe: the ground lamb cooks with the onions and garlic and a bit of olive oil. There is no call here to drain the fat – and there will be fat. If you’re averse to that, drain off most of the fat after the meat browns. The fat is loaded with flavor and good mouth feel, so we didn’t mess with it.
There you have it. My books below: