Recently, my girlfriend Pat and I broke our regular Friday night tradition and didn’t eat at our favorite restaurant, The Blackwater Grill—a sort of combination Cajun/low country place we’ve come to love over the past eight months we’ve lived here on St. Simons Island, Georgia. We dine there five out of every six Friday nights.
Instead, we ate at the Mediterranean restaurant across the street from Blackwater Grill. I won’t name the establishment's name out of deference to their public reputation, but our review was less than great. My Veal was “pretty good,” Pat’s stuffed grape leaves were “not great.” It was our second try at dining with them—we probably won’t be back for a while. We like the location and the atmosphere, but their food just doesn’t quite make it. Can you say “Bland Greek?” I didn’t know that there was such a thing as bland Greek food.
Neither of us is of Greek or Italian origin, nor have we ever even traveled to Europe in our lifetimes, but we have a pretty good idea of what the region and style of food should embody from our prior positive restaurant experiences.
This being the first recipe posting to my new food blog, The Redneck Gourmet, I have chosen the Greek eggplant standard—Moussaka—for my first topic. I cooked my first 9x13 casserole dish full tonight, and it was excellent, if I do say so myself.
First, the research. I give these sites credit for my recipe inspiration:
In my opinion, the key to this dish, in addition to good basic ingredients, is that you must get the spice mixture right to make it taste like “Greek” Moussaka. I don’t want a dish of Italian eggplant lasagna, I WANT GREEK MOUSSAKA!
So without further fanfare, on to the ingredients:
2 medium eggplants
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely sliced
1 cup sugar snap peas (optional)
1 cup button mushrooms
3 garlic cloves, diced
2 tbsp olive oil
¼ pint sherry
½ LB Chopped Lamb
½ LB lean ground beef
1 can (8 oz) pureed tomatoes
1 can (8oz) diced tomatoes
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin powder
½ tsp red pepper
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp salt
1 cup un-seasoned bread crumbs
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
½ cup crumbled Feta Cheese
For the Béchamel Sauce Topping:
4 tbsp unsalted butter
4 tbsp flour
1-1/4 cup scalded milk
1/8 tsp red pepper
¼ tsp salt
And finally, the implementation:
Peal and slice the eggplant into ¼ pieces. Soak eggplant in cold salted water for at least one hour.
Redneck Tip: Weight the eggplant slices with a couple of saucers or plates (whatever will fit in your water bowl) to ensure that all of the slices stay submerged under the water.
Peal and cut carrot into thin slices. Blanch carrot slices and sugar snap beans for 2 minutes in boiling water. Drain in colander and set aside.
For the meat sauce, in a large deep skillet or sauce pan, heat 2 tbsp olive oil and add diced onion. Cook onion until clear, then add garlic, stirring regularly.
Redneck Tip: Don’t burn your garlic or you’ll have to start over.
Add the chopped lamb and ground beef and cook until browned.
Next add the tomato puree and diced tomatoes, carrots, sugar snaps, and mushrooms, along with the allspice, cinnamon, cumin, paprika, and red pepper. Add the ¼ pint of sherry
Redneck Tip: Don’t attempt to do the rest of the ½ pint bottle of Sherry as a shot. You’ll end up dancing by yourself or watching TV and eating corn chips for dinner.
Bring the whole thing to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, back to that delicious eggplant. Pour off the water through a colander.
Redneck tip: Remove the weights first, duuh…
Turn all of the eggplant pieces up on edge in the colander and separate them as you can so that all of the water drains out. You don’t want soggy eggplant for the next step.
Redneck Tip: Guys, you might want to put on a shirt when you start frying the eggplant, particularly if it is wet, because it will pop a good deal and you risk burning your beer belly if you stand too close to the skillet (Ladies, I assume you were already wearing a shirt.)
Fry the eggplant slices in a skillet in about ¼” of vegetable oil over medium heat until tender. Drain the slices when they are cooked on lots of paper towels. Don’t skimp on the paper towels, you want to get as much grease out of the eggplant as is possible.
The Bechamel sauce is made as follows. Melt butter in a medium skillet. Add flour a tablespoon at a time, stirring constantly. In another pot, scald the milk, and keep warm.
Redneck tip: For all of you Cajuns out there, we’re making a roux.
Keep adding the flour a little bit at a time until the roux is thick, but don’t cook it until it is brown. Add the warm milk a little at a time, again stirring constantly with a whisk. After the milk is added, bring the whole thing to a low boil and cook until it thickens to the consistency of a medium gravy. Turn off the heat and let cool.
In a separate bowl (or a coffee cup), beat the eggs until smooth. Slowly add a little of the cooled sauce to the eggs so as to not “scramble them.” Add the warmed egg/sauce mixture to the balance of the sauce, add red pepper, cinnamon, and salt to taste. Turn off heat and stir to blend.
Putting it all together:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Sprinkle a few tablespoons of bread crumbs into the bottom of a greased 9 x 13 Pyrex dish. Layer one half of the eggplant on the bottom of the dish. Pour half of the meat sauce mixture on top of the eggplant and smooth out evenly.
Layer the rest of the eggplant slices and sprinkle with another couple of tablespoons of bread crumbs, half of the grated parmesan cheese and all of the Feta cheese. Add the balance of the meat sauce mixture and smooth out evenly. Sprinkle with the rest of the bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. Pour the Bechamel sauce over the top of the dish and smooth evenly.
Place in the 350 degree oven and cook for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown on top.
Allow the Moussaka to cool and rest for 15 minutes, slice into squares, and serve with your favorite red wine and bread.
The Redneck Gourmet