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Lockdown Recipe of the Day: Mama’s Moussaka

Lockdown Recipe of the Day: Mama’s Moussaka
Mama's moussaka. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

There are baked dishes with ground beef as the hero in many cuisines. But Greek moussaka, for some of us, is the prince among these. There are as many recipes for it as there are Greek mamas. This one includes both brinjals and courgettes, with an optional potato layer though, personally, I prefer moussaka without potatoes.

 

For the meat layer:

Ingredients

500g ground beef (mince)

1 large onion, sliced

2 or 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 Tbs olive oil

1 x 410g can chopped tomatoes

50g tomato paste

Pinch of sugar

2 large brinjals, cut into thin slices length-wise

4 to 6 courgettes (zucchini)

Extra garlic for the brinjals and zucchini

1 scant tsp ground cinnamon (ie not heaped)

½ a scant tsp ground cloves

4 or 5 sprigs thyme

Salt and pepper

Grated Parmesan

Optional: 2 to 3 large potatoes, depending on size

Cooking oil as needed for potatoes, brinjals, courgettes

 

Method

Start with the brinjals (eggplant/aubergine). Layer thin lengthwise slices of brinjal in a colander. Salt very well, turn and salt the other side. Salt each new layer. Place on the side of the sink for half an hour while the salt extracts the bitter juices. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry with a kitchen towel.

Sauté the onion and garlic in a little olive oil until soft but not coloured. Add the tomato paste and sauté, to soften the acidity in the paste. Add a pinch of sugar and cook for a minute more.

Add the chopped tomatoes, thyme, ground cinnamon and cloves and cook for two minutes. Add the meat and work it with a wooden spoon to ensure the mince does not clump. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 200℃ and leave the mince to simmer while you cook the béchamel, brinjals and courgettes. Stir the mince occasionally.

If using potatoes, peel and slice them into scallops (thin rounds), steam them for 10 minutes, pat dry and shallow fry them in cooking oil until lightly golden.

Shallow fry the brinjal slices and sliced courgettes in olive oil until lightly browned and soft, a few pieces at a time, scattering some chopped garlic over as you fry, and seasoning with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Here’s a trick I learnt from YouTube videos by Greek chef Akis Petretzikis: When the meat sauce is cooked, stir in a ladleful of the béchamel. This makes the meat layer of the moussaka super creamy and deals with any risk of a runny, watery sauce.

 

For the béchamel:

500ml full cream milk

4 Tbs flour

4 Tbs butter (not margarine)

1 bay leaf (dried or fresh)

Salt and pepper to taste

Pinch of ground nutmeg or a grating of whole nutmeg

 

Method

Pour the cold milk into a deep saucepan, adding the bay leaf and pinch of nutmeg. Bring the milk just to the boil, then remove it from the heat. Discard the bay leaf.

Melt the butter in a second saucepan. Vigorously stir in the flour with a wooden spoon or whisk, to make a smooth roux. There must be no lumps. Add the hot milk a little at a time, stirring or whisking vigorously; do not add more until the first batch is smooth. Once the last of the milk has been added, stir until it thickens again. Keep warm.

To assemble:

Grease or spray a suitable deep oven dish. If using potatoes, layer them at the bottom. Season with salt and pepper. Layer the brinjal slices next, then the courgettes. Add the mince, removing the thyme sprigs, and smoothing it to the edges. Pour over the béchamel and sprinkle with grated Parmesan. Bake in the oven for half an hour to 40 minutes. Remove and allow to stand for 20 minutes to allow it to settle, which makes it easier to serve neat portions. DM/TGIFood

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