Moussaka made better

The usual goo served at many tavernas is not how it's supposed to be
By Yvette Varvaressou

Ask any tourist what Greek dishes they know and the first thing that comes to mind is usually moussaka. Unfortunately, what used to be the pride of every Greek homemaker (and a rite of passage for every prospective village bride) now often devolves into a greasy pile of potatoes and tomato sauce with a spattering of minced meat and eggplant. As for toppings at tavernas, a quivering layer of faux bechamel sauce tends to be the order of the day.

But it’s unlikely that any of these taverna cooks have taken the trouble to follow the recipes of chefs such as Nikos Tselementes, once the foremost authority on Greek food. (It is Tselementes, in fact, who is credited with introducing the bechamel sauce layer back in the 1920s.)

Older moussaka recipes call for eggplant, ground lamb, onion, garlic, chopped tomatoes, herbs and spices -- including cinnamon and allspice. Potatoes were intended to be added as a variation, but have increasingly pushed out other ingredients as an easy way to increase bulk and cut costs.

One of the following recipes uses mashed potato instead of the bechamel sauce as a lighter variation. The second recipe is for an eggplant pie that uses the ingredients of the original moussaka while adding a crust pastry.


Moussaka pie with mashed potato crust
Ingredients (serves 6-8)

For the pie:

0.5 kg beef fillet, in small cubes
2 large eggplants, cubed
2 zucchini, cubed
15 baby tomatoes, halved
1 tbsp tomato juice
2 shallots, finely sliced
1 medium-sized onion, grated
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
4 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp white wine
2 dried allspice berries
Salt and pepper

For the mashed potato:

1 kg potatoes (preferably organic)
150 ml fresh milk
50 gr fresh butter
A little grated nutmeg
2 tbsp grated cheese (kefalotyri)
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large, deep frying pan. Add the grated onion and beef and saute until browned, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add the wine and keep stirring for 1-2 minutes. Then add all the vegetables, tomato juice, parsley and allspice. Season, cover and cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in a large saucepan in plenty of salted water. In another saucepan, heat the milk with the butter. As soon as the potatoes are quite soft, remove them with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the saucepan with the milk. Mash them with a fork, stirring continually. The potatoes don’t have to be pureed, but should be well blended with the mixture. Then add the nutmeg, salt (if necessary), a spoonful of the grated cheese, and the pepper. Pour the meat mixture into a deep, greased oven-proof dish and spread the potato mix on top of it. Sprinkle the rest of the grated cheese over the top and bake at 180C for 25-30 minutes until the top turns golden.

Myrsini Lambraki

Moussaka tart
Ingredients (for 6-8)
3 sheets of pastry

2 large eggplants, cut in small cubes
2 tbsp olive oil
250 gr minced beef (minced once)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 shot of brandy
1 whole garlic clove
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
2 finely chopped tomatoes
A little sugar, salt and pepper

For the sauce:

500 ml fresh milk
2 heaped tbsp cornflour
A little freshly ground nutmeg
2 eggs (preferably organic),
yolks and whites separated
2 tbsp strained yogurt (2 percent fat)
Salt and white pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C. Wash the eggplant, remove the stalks and cut into small cubes. Place the cubes in a bowl and pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil over them. Mix them with your hands, lay them on a sheet of greaseproof paper on a baking tray and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and saute the minced meat for 4-5 minutes until done. Don’t stir it too much or you’ll dry it out. Add the onion and garlic and saute for 2-3 minutes more until they are transparent.
Add the brandy and gently stir with a wooden spatula until the alcohol has evaporated. Add the tomatoes, sugar, parsley and seasoning. Cook for another 7-8 minutes until the meat has absorbed all the liquid. Remove from the stove.
For the sauce, put the milk, cornflour and nutmeg in a saucepan and mix with a whisk so no lumps form. Heat for 7-8 minutes and when it begins to boil, remove from the hub and keep whisking, while adding the cheese.
Using the whisk, beat the egg yolks together with the yogurt and add to the sauce.
Beat the whites for 4-5 minutes until a soft meringue has formed and fold into the sauce with a spoon.
Lay three oiled pastry sheets in a lightly oiled 26-centimeter tart tin, pushing the corners down to form a pocket.
Cut the corners and round the edges. Mix the baked eggplant with the meat mixture and pour onto the pastry. Cover it with the sauce. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the sauce has fluffed up and a crust has formed. Then leave it in the oven for 10-15 minutes and cut into individual servings carefully so that it doesn’t break up.
Argyro Barbarigou

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