Moussaka with Yogurt Béchamel

Moussaka with Yogurt Béchamel
It has been six months since I came back from my little adventure around the world but I still could not organize myself to start blogging again.   Having a new born baby has been proving to be a 24x7 job and I blame baby Lara for my absence.

This recipe is a little something I learned when I was in Greece.    Actually,  I did my fist experiments with Greek food when I was just about sixteen years old:  every year we had this competition at school, we had to choose a country and show many different aspects of its culture such as music, currency, dance and of course, food.      My role in the team was to research and prepare the traditional dishes.    

In 1990 my team's country of choice was Greece and I learned how to make Moussaka with a Greek
friend of my family.    That was the first time I was doing a Béchamel sauce and it took me a couple of tries, and for my mother despair a lot of mess in the kitchen, to get it right.

Béchamel can be a bit tricky - you have to make sure you whisk the sauce quick and continuous while pouring the milk to prevent it from lumping.   Another point of attention is to again whisking it non-stop when adding the egg yolks - failing to do that will result in not-so-nice pieces of omelet floating on your sauce.

Too many years afterwards and I am in Greece in this lovely hostel in Athens, right beside the Parthenon when I meet Stravoula, that worked in the hostel and taught me a little secret about Moussakas - replacing half of the milk used in the Bechamel sauce by Yogurt, in her words, would take my Moussaka to a whole new level!  

According to Stravoula a few rules had to be observed for a perfect Moussaka:   Meat should come
with sauce but not "swimming in sauce",  just enough to coat the meat nicely and Eggplants should be "sweat" and fried well before used.    A potato layer in the bottom would make it more firm and the vegetables could be roasted with lots of olive oil instead of fried for a healthier version.    She would also use some cardamom, dried oregano and a generous pinch of clove and cinnamon for a very aromatic meat sauce.

Although you can roast the vegetables instead of shallow frying,  I think it misses a lot of taste as  my Portuguese blood says there is no such a thing as too much olive oil.   If you must insist on a "thinner"  version just drizzle the eggplants with some olive oil and bake them for 30 minutes at 180C (350F) instead of frying them.

The recipe I am sharing with you today is a fusion between the Stravoula's Moussaka and the one I learned in my teenager years.   In case you are wondering, despite an epic failed Zorba "Ballet";  in that year, with a little help of my Moussaka and a great deal of team work, we won the competition just like this recipe will most certainly win a place in your kitchen.

Enjoy!

xox
Rachel


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Stravoula Moussaka with Yogurt Béchamel

Serves: 4  |  Costs: $$ |  Difficulty: Hard |  Time: 2h
Author: Stravoula and Moi

Ingredients

For the base
  • 3-4 Large eggplants
  • 1 Large potato sliced
  • Olive oil to shallow fry
  • Salt
For the Meat Sauce
  • 750g (1.7 lbs) Minced lamb or beef
  • 1 Large onion chopped
  • 2-3 Medium cloves of garlic
  • 1 Can diced Italian tomatoes with the juice
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 1 Teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 Green cardamoms, crushed seeds only
  • 1 Teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 Teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 Teaspoon ground cloves
  • 200 ml Dry red wine such as Cabernet 
  • Two tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the Béchamel (please check the text to tricky parts if  never made it before)
  • 2 Cups lukewarm milk
  • 1 1/2 Cups unflavored Greek yogurt
  • 100g (3.5 oz) Unsalted butter
  • 100g (3.5 oz) Plain flour
  • 2 Egg yolks 
  • 150g Grated Kefalotyri cheese or Parmesan if you can't find it 
  • 1/4 Teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 

Instructions

For the Base
  1. Cut the Eggplants in about 1/2 cm thick slices,  discard the stalks
  2. Sprinkle salt all over the eggplant slices and place it in a colander for about half of an hour.   
  3. The eggplant will "sweat" during this time - rinse it with water, squeezing a bit with the palm of your hands to remove the water.  Pat them dry.
  4. Zest the potato and cut it in about 1/2 cm thick slice
  5. Heat about a finger of olive oil in a frying pan
  6. Quickly fry the potato just to give it some color
  7. Fry the Eggplants slices until nicely colored - you might have to add more olive oil as you go because the Eggplant absolves a lot of the olive oil.
  8. Leave them to dry on paper towel while you prepare the Béchamel sauce
Preparing the Meat Sauce
  1. You might want to start preparing the meat sauce while the Eggplants are sweating
  2. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in large sauce pan
  3. Fry the onions, bay and garlic until onions are soft and slightly colored
  4. Add the mince to the pan and brown the meat until there are no pink spots
  5. Stir in the Cloves, Cardamom, Oregano, Allspice and Cinnamon and fry it for a couple minutes more
  6. Add the tomato paste, stir well
  7. Stir in the tomatoes in its juice
  8. Stir in the wine
  9. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, bring it to boil, reduce the heat
  10. Let it simmer for about an hour, til the sauce has reduced a lot, leaving just a nice and moist meat with some sauce
  11. Try it and add more salt and black pepper to taste
Preparing the Béchamel
  1. Vegetables are fried, Meat Sauce is simmering: time to make the Béchamel
  2. In a large pan melt the butter over medium heat
  3. Add the flour and whisk it quickly to make a paste, let it fry for a couple of minutes, always whisking it.
  4. Stir in the milk, whisking non stop
  5. Stir in the Yogurt and cook for a couple of minutes, you should have a very thick custard at this point
  6. Remove from the heat and add the egg yolks whisking it well and quickly until incorporated 
  7. Stir in the nutmeg
  8. Stir in 100g of the cheese
  9. Add salt and black pepper to taste
Assembling and Baking
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C ( 390F)
  2. Coat the bottom of a large rectangular baking dish (about 20x30cm) with olive oil
  3. Place the potato slices on the bottom of the dish, top it with 1/3 of the eggplant slices
  4. Pour in half of the meat Sauce and even out with the back of a spoon
  5. Add a second layer with 1/3 of the eggplants and pour in the rest of the meat, evening out the layer with the back of a spoon
  6. Add a final layer of eggplants, compress it with the palm of your hands and cover it with the Béchamel sauce 
  7. Sprinkle the remaining grated cheese  
  8. Bake it for about 60 minutes until the crust is nicely baked and golden 
  9. Wait until it cools down a bit to cut otherwise it falls apart.
Garnish with finely chopped parsley and serve with a bottle of Tempranillo.

Rachel Elich

Rachel Elich is a globetrotting, computer engineer, project manager, designer, untamed cook extraordinaire who backpacks around the world. Along the way on adventures, Rachel has adopted and incorporated international influences into all aspects of her creative work endeavours.

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