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Moussaka--Cook-Off 7

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#1 Chris Amirault

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 08:08 AM

Every now and then since December 2004, a good number of us have been getting together at the eGullet Recipe Cook-Off. Click here for the Cook-Off index.

For our seventh Cook-Off, due to an overwhelming campaign by a lurking group of Greek cuisine fans, we're going to be making mousssaka. And listen up: y'all have some work to do!

When it comes to moussaka, it's all Greek to me! :raz: I cannot find a single solid lead on an eGullet thread concerning moussaka. In addition, I cannot find a recipe for moussaka in RecipeGullet. Finally, I've never had nor cooked this dish, and the only cookbook I have that includes it (our own Paula Wolfert's great book on The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean) is explicitly non-traditional.

So, as in any decent democracy in the wake of a power-shift, the reigns must now be handed over to you, my moussaka-loving friends, to guide us through the pleasures of this fine dish. Tell us, what exactly is it? What produced your eager advocacy? How does it address the cook-off criteria? What are its classic forms? What links might guide us? What recipes do you use? What techniques can we learn?

Info! Photos! Opinions! Sing, Goddesses!!
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#2 Jason Perlow

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 08:21 AM

Mousakka is fundamentally, a layered casserole dish similar to shepherd's pie. At the bottom, you have par-cooked sliced potatoes, then sauteed or fried slices of eggplant, then ground meat (browned with chopped onion and seasoned with Greek seasonings, allspice and/or cinnamon, sometimes cooked with a little tomato paste or tomato sauce), and then you have a thick bechemel made with a sharp cheese (like parmesan) that is poured over the top, and then the entire casserole baked.

There is a great deal of variation on this dish, as it exists in Turkish, Greek, and Middle Eastern cultures, some even involve tomato sauce being poured over the top. In fact some don't use eggplant at all, you can substitute Zucchini even.
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#3 Chris Amirault

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 08:26 AM

Jason, do you have a few preferred recipes?
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#4 Jason Perlow

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 08:31 AM

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moussaka

There is no hard and fast authentic recipe because there is such tremendous variation. But here's a couple to start:

http://www.greek-rec...file=article167 (This one looks really good if you can find all the components)

http://www.cdkitchen...saka50284.shtml

http://www.recipezaar.com/35630

http://pieria.spark....es/moussaka.htm

http://www.cooks.com...-251193,00.html

http://www.cooks.com...-255194,00.html

http://www.premiersy...s/moussaka.html

Notice that some of these recipes call for potatoes as one of the layers, some do not. I happen to prefer the ones with potatoes, so certainly you can choose to add them or not.

The Turkish/Balkan versions are usually not as complicated as the Greek ones, as they usually omit the custard/bechemel/cheese layer at the top and don't heavily spice it as much.
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#5 Wolfert

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 08:40 AM

Finally, I've never had nor cooked this dish, and the only cookbook I have that includes it (our own Paula Wolfert's great book on The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean) is explicitly non-traditional.



Just to clear the playing fields before you begin:

Moussaka is Greek, Cypriot and Balkan. My version, described as Balkan in the book, is lesser known but it is traditional to parts of Eastern Macedonia.

Mussaka is made in Jordan, Lebanon,Syria and Turkey. It does not include the bechamel or yogurt topping.


Sounds like a lot of fun.

Edited by Wolfert, 15 April 2005 - 08:41 AM.

“C’est dans les vieux pots, qu’on fait la bonne soupe!”, or ‘it is in old pots that good soup is made’.

#6 Smithy

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 09:00 AM

Moussaka is also made in Egypt. It doesn't include potatoes or bechamel sauce, although I usually add the bechamel anyway.

Thanks, Chris! I think this changes my cooking plans for the weekend. :biggrin:

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#7 Dana

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 09:21 AM

I made David Rosengarten's version in his book, TASTE, a few years ago. It was very good, but there were quite a lot of steps and it was time-consuming. I've love to learn a quicker method, if there is one. We liked it a lot, but it involves a hunk of time that I don't usually have. Addtitionally, his recipe serves 15. I halved it when I made it, but if anyone needs a good recipe for a dinner party, this would fit the bill.
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#8 Chris Amirault

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 09:41 AM

Moussaka is Greek, Cypriot and Balkan. My version, described as Balkan in the book, is lesser known but it is traditional to parts of Eastern Macedonia.

Mussaka is made in Jordan, Lebanon,Syria and Turkey. It does not  include the bechamel or yogurt topping.

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Thanks, Paula, for clarifying my post!
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#9 Rachel Perlow

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 09:49 AM

Let me start by saying that Jason likes potato in it, I don't. But the last few times I've made it with the potatoes to please my man. :raz: The first recipe I ever used to make moussaka is Dinah Shore's recipe in Dom Deluise's Eat This! It'll Make You Feel Better, currently out of print, so you'll have to check your local library. I found a recipe online labeled as Dinah Shore's Moussaka (Greek Eggplant) and Meat, but I can't find my copy of Eat This! to make sure it is the same. No potatoes in this recipe, but feel free to add a layer or two.

As for the eggplant, I find it easier, quicker and less greasy to bake the eggplant, rather than frying the slices. Here is a link to my Eggplant Cutlets recipe on RecipeGullet. These eggplant cutlets are perfect for Moussaka or Eggplant Parmesan, or as a side dish on their own. I have to make extra because Jason'll eat them staight off the pan. :wink:

As for the Bechamel sauce, I've got that down easy with my new VitaMix:

It is excellent for making bechamel/cheese sauces. Heat the milk in the microwave for a head start (or not), blend with the flour for a couple minutes -- you can hear the difference when it starts to thicken. Add some butter, S&P, and cheese and blend some more. Perfect perfect cheese sauce without having to pre-grate the cheese. No lumps, no standing over a pot stirring or whisking to keep it smooth and from burning on the bottom.

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Finally, let me say that if you don't have a crowd to cook for, Moussaka freezes beautifully. Get some small containers for individual portions (bake in a large pan, cut out individual portions to freeze in those containers) or family meal sized portions, for us, that would be about a loaf pan. I recently picked up some extra loaf pans at a restaurant's going out of business liquidation, so I may just use some of those for adding to the freezer larder.

#10 Chufi

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 12:06 PM

Oh, wonderful. I love moussaka! The best one I ever made is from Rosemary Barron's book Flavors of Greece. The meat sauce is heavenly spiced with cinnamon, allspice, honey and oregano, and the bechamel has 3 different cheeses stirred into it. Lovely..

I also remember making papoutsakia once for a dinner party, which is basically the same recipe but instead of in a baking dish, it's baked in halved aubergine shells. (Papoutsakia means little shoe or little slipper, something like that.) Looks very pretty (I find that large baked dishes of the shepherd's pie/moussaka kind, can look a bit dull even if they taste fantastic).

Edited by Chufi, 15 April 2005 - 12:07 PM.


#11 M. Lucia

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 12:56 PM

The moussaka from the New York Times International Cookbook was a classic of my mom's dinner table growing up. Lamb, eggplant, potato, tomato, bechamel, oh it was good.

I actually often make a Lebanese appetizer dish referred to as moussaka. You can find the recipe in Annisa Helou's Lebanese Cuisine.
Basically you make a tomato sauce with onion, chickpeas and spices. You get baby eggplants (peel in stripes), briefly fry them whole, then add to the sauce to simmer. Fan the eggplants in a serving platter and spoon the tomato-chickpea sauce between the eggplants.
It is a lovely presentation and so good!

#12 Adam Balic

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 01:29 PM

Oh, wonderful. I love moussaka! The best one I ever made is from Rosemary Barron's book Flavors of Greece.  The meat sauce is heavenly spiced with cinnamon, allspice, honey and oregano, and the bechamel has 3 different cheeses stirred into it. Lovely..


I have also made this version and liked it very much. I think her information on lightening the bechamel with beaten eggs is excellent, especially for such a rich dish.

#13 Chris Amirault

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 01:37 PM

Quick follow-up on the different types of moussaka, from a trusted, expert source. Another major different between recipes involves whether or not there's meat. "Mussaka" or "mussaqqa" (Arabic to English transliteration requires flexibility, of course) is a mixed combination of chickpeas, zucchini or eggplant and tomatoes that doesn't usually include meat of any kind.
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#14 Susan in FL

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 02:58 PM

I'm in. I have never even eaten Moussaka, let alone make it, so this will be a fun experience. I checked out most of the recipes you all so kindly linked or mentioned, and this one from Recipe Zaar that Jason linked looks mighty good to me. I will be one of those who uses zucchini instead of eggplant, and will include potatoes. (I love Shepherd's Pie.)
I also have a cookbook called Traditional Greek Cooking, given to me by our Danish family after they vacationed in Greece. Its recipe looks good, as well. It calls for frying the potato slices before layering them in the pan.
Obviously this is basically a one dish meal. Do you all serve a (Greek?) salad with it?
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#15 torakris

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 03:06 PM

I was going to pass on this one because for some odd reason despite the fact that I love eggplant it makes me vomit... :blink:
I noticed that Jason said you could do it with zucchini instead so I think I will try it this way. I have never eatent his dish is my life..... :shock:

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#16 TongoRad

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 05:11 PM

I haven't done this yet, but...

There is a Turkish Restaurant near my parents' house on Long Island (Wild Fig in Glen Cove) that does an interesting take on moussaka that I have been meaning to duplicate. The interesting part is that they use both eggplant and zucchini, but do not pre-cook the slices. Instead they are sliced very thinly on a mandoline and placed in alternating layers in the casserole, which is then topped with the meat mixture and bechamel. The thin slicing eliminates the need to precook the veggies, and it's a fairly light and elegant presentation.

Again- I haven't tried this yet, so there may be complications that I am unaware of, but still...how hard can it be? This may be the nudge I've needed to give it a shot.
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#17 chef koo

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 05:49 PM

i'm gonna have to stop by my old work place. my first job was at a greek restaurant which was owned by a family friend. haven't been in a while. i'll go back and look up there moussaka (or mousse kaka) recipe and share it
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#18 NulloModo

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 07:54 PM

The best Moussaka I have ever had was from one of the worst diners in the area. My friends and I would usually go (drunk out of our minds) because they served an ultra-cheap 24 hour a day breakfast, and they had a 'sausage' there that came out nuclear red and if you stared at it long enough looking almost like it was breathing... (don't ask, it is appealing when drunk out of your mind).

Still, their Moussaka reigns supreme. Perhaps I will have to go back before I cook this one to get a good idea of what I am going after.
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#19 Eden

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 08:22 PM

I also remember making papoutsakia once for a dinner party, which is basically the same recipe but instead of in a baking dish, it's baked in halved aubergine shells.


Imagine making this as an apetizer in those teensy little asian egg-sized eggplants!!!
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#20 mizducky

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 08:54 PM

Ah! This is lovely!

One of my best friends from college days was, IIRC, a first-generation American of Macedonian heritage--his family lived in the St. Louis area, where I was given to understand there's a sizeable Macedonian emigre community. He made moussaka for me once--his version, learned from his mother, did have the bechamel topping, plus potatoes in addition to eggplant. I guess there must be different styles of moussaka in different regions of Macedonia...

He also taught me that it's pronounced with the accent on the third syllable. Up to that point I was saying it with the accent on the second syllable, which is how I heard it pronounced by diner waitresses when I was growing up in the suburbs of New York.

Maybe I'll get ambitious and drop my old college friend an email to get the specifics of his family recipe...

Edited by mizducky, 16 April 2005 - 10:44 AM.


#21 deltadoc

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Posted 16 April 2005 - 05:31 AM

The first recipe I ever used to make moussaka is Dinah Shore's recipe in Dom Deluise's Eat This! It'll Make You Feel Better, currently out of print, so you'll have to check your local library. I found a recipe online labeled as Dinah Shore's Moussaka (Greek Eggplant) and Meat[/url], but I can't find my copy of Eat This! to make sure it is the same. No potatoes in this recipe, but feel free to add a layer or two.


If memory serves me correctly, Craig Claiborne's Best of NY has Dinah Shore's moussaka recipe. It used bread crumbs. I made it once and was pretty disappointed in it.

In Minneapolis, It's Greek to Me serves a moussaka which I found to be wonderful. I have mimicked their dish as follows:

Meat Mixture:

2 lbs Ground Lamb (or very lean hamburger)
1/2 C Red Wine
1/2 C finely diced onion
1-2 TBSP Tomato Paste
Salt, Pepper, Cinnamon, Allspice to taste

Brown meat and onions, add tomato paste and red wine, cinnamon, black pepper and allspice, reduce.

Salt to taste.

Eggplant
3-4 Dark purple eggplant sliced in rounds with skin on. Sprinkle liberally with salt and let drain in colander for 1 hour with a plated weight on them.

Rinse thoroughly and pat dry.

Heat olive oil on hot griddle and griddle the slices until brown on one side and then turn one time and brown the other side. Keep olive oil layer light as eggplant will soak up as much as you put on. Set aside.

Slice potatoes with or without skin in 1/8" slices. Griddle them till browned on both sides. Set aside.

Bechamel Sauce

Any recipe for bechamel sauce will work, but I start with a roux, to which I slowly add heated 2% milk while stirring. I like to keep my bechamel rather thick. I add 3 egg yolks to the sauce (beat the egg yolks in small dish, add some of the hot bechamel and stir, then add back into the bechamel) and parmesan cheese and a little salt. Don't forget to add freshly grated nutmeg to the bechamel. It is very important to the moussaka taste.


Baking
Layer the potatoes first in bottom of lasagna pan which has been oiled first.

Then the meat mixture.

Then layer the eggplant slices.

Top with the bechamel.

Bake at 350 until lightly browned on top.

Let sit after taking out of the oven for at least 15-20 minutes to "set up".

Slice and enjoy. It does freeze very well.


doc

#22 Rachel Perlow

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Posted 16 April 2005 - 05:53 AM

Rereading the Dinah Shore recipe, the main variation is that ricotta cheese is added to the bechamel. Opinions on this?

re: Ground Lamb -- I'm finding it very hard to procure. I needed some last week when I made gyro, and I had to buy shoulder chops and debone and grind them myself. I'm going to call some semi-local butchers to see what they have. I spoke with a butcher at Pathmark Supermarket and they said they aren't allowed to ground lamb for customers, only beef. The only way they can sell ground lamb is if it comes boxed. Same for pork. They have to keep their grinding machine beef only. He suggested ShopRite, but I suspect it is a similar story there, as they wouldn't grind the chops I bought there either. He said it's bad for the customers and the butchers because the stores need fewer "meat men" -- only the store's bottom line benefits.

Follow-up: I called the butchers and they have ground lamb in frozen 1 lb packages, patties or not. One has it for $2.99/lb (Oradell Prime Meats, Oradell, NJ), the other for $3.80/lb (United Meat Market, New Milford, NJ). Both of these prices are less than I paid for shoulder chops (again that I had to debone and grind in my food processer) at a supermarket (ShopRite $3.99/lb). Moral: Patronize your independant butcher for the lamb.

Edited by Rachel Perlow, 16 April 2005 - 06:02 AM.


#23 Mabelline

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Posted 16 April 2005 - 07:20 AM

I have sent Devoted Sweet Husband for eggplants. I hope he remembers what he's been tutored about such. Am hobbling around after having a horse skid to a halt and plop down with my right leg under him---major bummer since I only get to ride a few times a year. But no matter. I am thinking of using some thinly sliced cabbage as a potato substitute.

Quick question??? How many of youall slice, salt, then rise and drain your eggies?

Aw, I forgot to mention that I'll be using ground venison with spicy sausage mixed in for a lamb sub as well. I find it can have the same mouthfeel if you pay attention to your mixing.

Edited by Mabelline, 16 April 2005 - 07:22 AM.


#24 Chris Amirault

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Posted 16 April 2005 - 08:03 AM

Quick question??? How many of youall slice, salt, then rise and drain your eggies?

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Yes, let's figure this out! I slice, salt, wait, then dab with paper towels. I also only buy what I've been told were male eggplants (no indentation at the base) bc they supposedly have fewer seeds. Anecdotal evidence, always tricky, bears out the effectiveness of these two techniques, but I'd be interested to know what people think.

Just checked the new McGee, and he says that the salting reduces the absorptiveness of eggplant, but as far as reducing bitterness, that probably just reduces "our perception of the alkaloids." I dunno what that means and have to take the dog for a walk, but if someone out there can explain, that'd be swell!
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#25 Bella S.F.

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Posted 16 April 2005 - 08:16 AM

Rachel, I have a copy of "EAT THIS..." . Dinah Shore's recipe that you linked to is the same one that is in the book.
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#26 Mabelline

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Posted 16 April 2005 - 08:18 AM

Husband just got home with 2 eggplants (for 5$!!!!YIKES!) and they got sliced, salted and I have them draining off for 45 mins.

#27 Dejah

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Posted 16 April 2005 - 08:57 AM

I have always sliced, salted and drained for moussaka in the past, but I like Rachel's idea of baking. So, for this round, I am going to follow her idea.

Ground lamb is not to be found in any of our sources at the moment, not even frozen chubs. I bought some shoulder chops, but I am thinking of using ground bison which is very lean and suitable for our low fat diet at the moment.

Talk about putting my own spin on a classic...
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#28 Rachel Perlow

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Posted 16 April 2005 - 08:57 AM

Rachel, I have a copy of "EAT THIS..." . Dinah Shore's recipe that you linked to is the same one that is in the book.

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Thanks Bella. Of course, Jason doesn't want me to put ricotta in it, so I won't be using that recipe now. But good to know.

#29 Jason Perlow

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Posted 16 April 2005 - 09:04 AM

Obviously this is basically a one dish meal.  Do you all serve a (Greek?) salad with it?

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At Turkish and Greek restaurants in the US, that's typically what it is accompanied with, yes, with perhaps some warm pita bread.
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#30 kanljung

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Posted 16 April 2005 - 10:29 AM

I will use a recipe from "A New Book of Middle Eastern food" by Claudia Roden. This recipe. It uses a bechamel sauce enrichened with eggs and states potatoes as being optional. I'll definitely include the potatoes.

I will be using ground lamb since it is rather easy to get here in Sweden but the recipe above states that ground beef may be used as well. Half the time I get moussaka in greek restaurants, it is made with ground beef. Does any one know which is more authentic? Could this be a regional issue?

Unfortunately I will not have the time to the moussaka until next weekend.
Christofer Kanljung





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