Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Akrotiri: Moussaka - Casserole o' Eggplant

Eggplant at last. All is well in Boston.

I cooked this last night, after running 10 miles in a most un-May-like freezing wind. I was starved, wind-chapped, and frozen, pacing around my kitchen eating peanuts while waiting for this thing to cook. But when it was done, oh . . .

One of the things I love about running is that everything tastes better after a long run. Your body has literally been burning itself for fuel, so food becomes a bushel of fresh, crisp kindle applied to dying embers. Even my hamstrings rejoice: fuel! In sum: this casserole from Akrotiri tasted like joy itself.

Akrotiri is a small country on the southernmost tip of Cyprus, jutting out into the Mediterranean at about the same latitude as Beirut. I do mean small. It's about 1/10th the size of Rhode Island, and most of that is taken up by a large salt lake and marshlands. Most of the people who live there are British citizens, working for the air force base.

The moussaka dish is technically Greek, but popular in southern Cyprus, where they make it in terracotta pots. The only terracotta pots I had contain flowers, so I just used a casserole.

Makes enough for 4

2 lbs eggplant, courgettes, or a mix, trimmed and sliced lengthways
2 large potatoes, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced
1 lb beef, lamb, or pork, minced (I left this out)
2 large tomatoes, grated
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 glass red wine (I left this out too)

White Sauce:
4 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp flour
3 cups of boiling milk
2 eggs
Pinch salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

The original recipe called for frying the eggplant and potato slices in the oil, but I blanche at the thought of that much oil, so I only used a bit. They should brown, but not cook all the way through.

Remove the eggplant and potato, add the onions to the oil, then the meat. Remove the onions and meat from the pan. Add the tomatoes, spices, and wine, and cook until the liquid is absorbed.

Make the white sauce: melt the butter in a saucepan, stir in the flour, add milk gradually and whisk until the lumps are gone. Add salt and pepper, bring to a boil, remove from heat, stir for 1-2 minutes, then add the eggs and stir until the sauce is well mixed.

Make a layer of the potatoes and eggplant in the bottom of the casserole dish, spread the tomato mixture over it, layer the onions on top, pour the white sauce over everything, and top with a bit of cheese.

Bake for about 50 minutes, until the top is crusty.


Marilyn said...

Looks good! For some reason eggplant is one of my least favorite vegetables, and frankly, i am finding it unacceptable. I keep buying it looking for new ways to cook it, so I should probably try this.

Sara said...

It's me again! Thought I'd leave my tortilla soup recipe on your most recent post, since I don't know how these blog comment things work and you may never see the comment if I put it on an old post.

So. Tortilla soup.

This is how I make it. It makes a big batch and then I either freeze it or keep it in the fridge and eat it over the next couple of days.

1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
1 large brown onion
3 cloves garlic
1 bunch cilantro leaves
2 49-oz cans chicken broth
3 chipotle peppers and a little adobo sauce (they come in a little can: "Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce" - you might have to go to the Ethnic Foods aisle for this; I'm never sure where it will be but it will almost certainly come in a little can)

Some cooked chicken
Some tortilla chips
Some Monterey jack cheese
Some avocado
Some sour cream

Combine tomatoes, onion, garlic, and cilantro in a blender, and blend until nearly smooth (it looks kind of like a smooth gazpacho at this point).

Put tomato mixture into a large pot with chicken broth and your 3 chipotle peppers + a little adobo sauce.

(The original recipe actually has you put in 1 1/2 lbs uncooked cut up chicken breast at this point; I don't do this; I'll explain why soon.)

Bring to a boil; cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

(So, I don't cook the chicken this way because I just don't think chicken cooked this way tastes very good. And since I don't do the chicken here, I probably don't have to let it simmer for 20 minutes, but I do anyway, to let the chipotles infuse their spicy magic.)

Crumble some tortilla chips into a bowl. Add some pieces or shreds of cooked chicken (I buy pre-cooked chicken strips--I'm lazy), some grated jack cheese, some pieces of avocado, and some sour cream.

BEFORE SERVING THE SOUP, REMOVE THE CHIPOTLES!! (It's easy--they will have floated to the top. Just make the soup stop simmering. Seriously, you don't want to eat these and you don't want them to sit in the soup overnight. It will make the soup unbearably spicy. And this is coming from someone who likes really spicy things.)

Finally, ladle the soup over the good stuff in your bowl. Enjoy (but don't burn your tongue)!

While writing that, I remembered you're a vegetarian. You can easily omit the chicken, and, if you want, replace it with some faux meat you like, or tofu or something. (I sound so dismissive of the vegetarian options, but I actually love that stuff. Now I'm thinking of trying that myself some time.)

Gosh, this recipe is so easy I'm almost embarassed.

Hope you like it. If you do, please blog it because it will make me feel like a movie star.

Curiosity Killed the Cook said...

Horray! Thanks for the soup, Sara! I've never made a tortilla soup before & it actually looks a little intimidating to me, but I'll give it a go. =)

Anna said...

hi there, i just saw the tortilla soup recipe and it looks remarkably similar to a tlalpe├▒o soup that my mexican friends taught me to make. my version is vegetarian and i use garbanzo and beans instead of chicken. here's the link if you want to check it out.

Steve said...

Really good recipe. Thanks for sharing it.