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)
4 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp flour
3 cups of boiling milk
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.